The Horse Race and Politics

horse race

The word horse race can mean any close competition, but in recent times it has become synonymous with a particular kind of political contest. As the mudslinging, name calling and attack ads increase in intensity before November’s election, it is easy for the issues at stake to get lost among the noise. With the presidential horse race in full swing, it may be helpful to reexamine some of the fundamentals of the electoral process.

The classic succession horse race pits two or more senior executives in an overt competition for the top job, with the winner becoming the new chief executive officer. Proponents of this approach argue that it is necessary to keep up a company’s high performance standards, and that the overt competition also encourages internal candidates who are not the first choice for the role to work harder in other areas of the business. However, governance experts and executives are divided on whether this approach is good or bad for a company.

A recent study of newspaper coverage of elections found that when the term horse race was used, it most often referred to the political contests of governor and U.S. senator, rather than local and legislative races. The researchers, Johanna Dunaway and Regina G. Lawrence, analyzed more than 10,000 articles published in 259 newspapers between Sept. 1 and the day before Election Day in 2004-2006, and found that the horse race framing was most prevalent in papers that were owned by large chains.

Regardless of whether one loves or hates horse racing, it is undeniable that the industry has its dark side. Pushed beyond their physical limits, horses are often subjected to cocktails of legal and illegal drugs that mask injuries and artificially enhance their performance. For example, many of these animals will bleed from the lungs after running a race, an injury known as exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. To alleviate the pain, workers will inject a substance called Lasix or Salix, a diuretic that is designed to reduce bleeding.

There are essentially three types of people in the horse-racing world. There are the crooks who dangerously drug and otherwise abuse their horses, and there are those who labor under the fantasy that the sport is broadly fair and honest. Then there are those in the middle, honorable souls who know that the industry is more crooked than it should be but won’t give their all to correct it.

A growing awareness of the cruelty that plagues the racing industry is fueling reforms, and this may be why even the most hardheaded moneymen in the game have begun to worry. While trainers like Steve Asmussen have no desire to see their sport fall apart, they cannot say no the way a star athlete such as LeBron James can. A racehorse must do what its trainer dictates. This is why serious reform is urgently needed in the horse-racing world. The next step must be to move from the horse-race myth to the reality of what’s actually happening on and off the track.