The incidence of race-day jockey falls in Australia, 2002–2006

Peta L Hitchens, C Leigh Blizzard, Graeme Jones, Lesley M Day and James Fell
Med J Aust 2009; 190 (2): 83-86. || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2009.tb02284.x
Published online: 19 January 2009
Data sources

Incidence data on falls of licensed jockeys riding registered racehorses at race meetings throughout Australia were collated from stewards’ reports provided by the Principal Racing Authority of each state and territory of Australia. Each report was scanned electronically, and a keyword search was conducted for any report of a rider being dislodged from a horse. Once a fall was identified, details of the incident were extracted and recorded in a database.

Racing Information Services Australia, the official repository for all thoroughbred race results across Australia, provided comprehensive data on every race conducted at race meetings run by a Principal Racing Authority from 1 August 2002 to 31 July 2006. These data were merged with the incidence falls data by one-to-one matching on race date, racecourse, race number, jockey name and horse name.

Data on falls from flat racing and jumps racing (over steeplechase fences or hurdles) were analysed separately to consider the different risks of jumps racing.

An injury was considered to have occurred if the jockey was declared unfit to ride or was transported to hospital after a fall. Information from clinical assessments by the attending medical officer was not available. Where the outcome of a fall was not reported in the stewards’ report, we assumed that the injury severity was minor.

Mortality data were obtained from the Australian Jockeys’ Association National Jockeys’ Trust online memorial (1847–2007).12

The Human Research Ethics Committee (Tasmania) waived the need for ethics approval of these analyses of publicly available information.


Stewards’ reports were available for 92.8% (10 373/11 180) of the race meetings held during the study period (Box 1).

There were 861 injuries and 3360 jockey falls from 748 367 rides in 75 434 races and 10 373 race meetings. Jockeys had a mean of one fall every 240 rides in flat racing, and a mean of one fall every 19 rides in jumps racing (Box 2).

When fall incidence rates were re-analysed to estimate the effect of missing data, the re-estimated incidence rates were almost unchanged.

Flat racing

The median number of rides per jockey in flat races was 160.5 (range, 1–4019). The median number of falls per jockey was 1.0 (range, 0–20). The number of falls increased over the study period at a rate of 5.83% (95% CI, 5.67%–5.99%) per year, or around 44 falls per year, but around one-fifth of this increase can be attributed to an increase in the number of races each season. In flat racing, falls per 100 rides increased at the rate of 4.50% (95% CI, 3.83%–5.19%) per year. This increase was mainly confined to falls pre- and post-race, which increased at the rate of 6.69% (95% CI, 4.37%–9.07%) per year.

Information on the location and causes of falls in flat racing is shown in Box 3. Of 3101 falls that occurred during flat racing, 1694 (54.6%) occurred before the horses jumped out of the barriers. Another 1063 (34.3%) occurred during the race (including during the jump out from the barriers) and 344 (11.1%) occurred after the race. Reporting of cause of fall was incomplete in 1398 (45.1%) cases. These cases were recorded as “dislodged” or similar without an underlying reason specified. Most (1057; 75.6%) of these falls occurred before the race.

Information on the severity of falls in flat racing is summarised in Box 4. Falls during the race (including during the jump out from the barriers) accounted for 61.7% of injuries. Assuming that falls with outcomes not reported in the stewards’ report were minor in injury severity, about 30% of falls occurring during a race required admission to hospital, compared with less than 10% of falls occurring pre- or post-race.


Our study, the first to examine falls and injuries to jockeys in Australia, adds to previous Australian studies of injuries from equestrian and recreational horse riding13-17 and a study of injuries to jockeys in Victoria.11 We found a rate of 0.42 falls per 100 rides in flat races and 5.26 falls per 100 rides in jumps races. A fall can be career-ending, and a small proportion of falls result in death. Most falls in Australia occur pre- or post-race, but falls occurring during the race result in the most severe injuries.

The incidence of falls in flat racing in Australia during 2002–2006 was at the high end of the range found in the UK and Ireland5 and France7 during the previous decade, but at the low end of that range if adjusted for the trend increase in Australian rates between 2002 and 2006.

Despite this, the proportion of injuries per fall in flat racing (27%) was lower in Australia than in the UK, Ireland and France, where it was around 40%.5,7 This may be because most falls in Australia occurred before or after the race, when falls are generally less severe. In contrast, falls that occurred during races resulted in 48.5% (516/1063) of injuries. This result is similar to Japan, where about half of falls occurring during races resulted in injury.10

In jumps racing, the rate of falls in Australia was at the lower end of the range found in the European studies. Most jumps races in Australia were conducted in Victoria, and the introduction of a new type of jump during the 2005–2006 racing season coincided with a decrease in the rate of falls.

The injury rate for jumps racing in Australia was similar to that for Ireland and less than half that of the other countries, with a similar pattern in the ratio of falls in jumps races to falls in flat races. In our study, 34.3% of falls in flat racing occurred during the race, and resulted in 61.7% of the injuries sustained. This is slightly lower than that found in the UK and Ireland (approximately 70%).5

A strength of our study is that we had very high ascertainment, with 92.8% of stewards’ reports for the period being obtained. As far as we can tell, missing data from stewards’ reports did not materially influence our results. Although nearly half of the reports did not provide an underlying reason for the fall, there is no reason to suspect they were due to a cause other than fractious behaviour of the horse, because 90% occurred pre- or post-race, and falls from other causes are uncommon at those stages. If so, nearly all (96.8%; 1640/1694) falls before the race were due to fractious behaviour.

We were also able to provide information on the locations and causes of falls; the studies from the UK, Ireland and France did not provide this information.5,7 The study from Japan provided information on the causes of the falls, but during races only, so no meaningful comparisons were possible.10

Although stewards’ reports provide a complete record of observed incidents occurring during a race meeting, they are not medical records and do not capture the subsequent sequelae of those incidents. As a source of data on injuries, they may lead to underestimation of minor injuries, but should provide a reliable record of the occurrence of substantive injuries. A further limitation of our study is that we did not have coverage of falls or injuries during track work, which accounted for 31% of fall-related injuries in the Victorian study.11 Compared with the European studies, we had a limited period of observation, but a higher number of rides and fall events. Jumps racing was limited to three states, providing fewer observations than included in the overseas studies. Despite this, we were able to observe a decline in falls following the safety changes to jumps in Victoria.

Being a jockey is a hazardous occupation. Our results support the need to improve occupational health and safety standards in the thoroughbred racing industry in Australia, and suggest that intervention strategies will need to address falls pre- and post-race as well as during the race.

  • Peta L Hitchens1
  • C Leigh Blizzard1
  • Graeme Jones1
  • Lesley M Day2
  • James Fell3

  • 1 Menzies Research Institute, University of Tasmania, Hobart, TAS.
  • 2 Monash University Accident Research Centre, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 3 School of Human Life Sciences, University of Tasmania, Launceston, TAS.



The research team thanks the Australian Racing Board; Racing Information Services Australia for provision of race data; each Principal Racing Authority for provision of stewards’ reports; Mrs Polly Foster for assistance in processing paper-based records; and Tim Albion, IT Systems Manager at the Menzies Research Institute.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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