Horse race is the sport in which people bet on horses running around a track and the winner is the one who finishes first. It is an ancient contest of speed and stamina that evolved from a diversion of the leisure class into a multibillion-dollar public entertainment business. It has developed into a complex spectacle with large fields of runners and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, but the fundamental concept remains unchanged.
Racing has taken commendable steps to improve the safety of its horses over recent years, and those efforts have borne some fruit. But the industry cannot hide behind its successes if it wants to retain any credibility as a respectable form of entertainment. New would-be fans are turning away, and even longtime supporters have become increasingly disillusioned with the sport’s many controversies over safety and doping.
Behind the romanticized facade of a horse race lies a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter. Every week, an average of 24 Thoroughbreds endure fatal breakdowns at racetracks, and this figure doesn’t even include those horses that are discarded by the industry once they’re no longer profitable. With few exceptions, owners and trainers have only a short-term financial interest in their horses and are utterly unaccountable for what happens to them after they leave the track.
The most fundamental problem for horse racing is that it is a for-profit enterprise that treats animals as disposable goods. To survive, it must recognize that horses deserve a life beyond the track, a life in which they are respected and not treated as mere commodities to be exploited for profit.
In the modern era, most horse races are handicapped, meaning that each horse is assigned a weight based on its past performance. This system flies in the face of the classic notion that the best horse should win; instead, it gives each horse an equal chance to win.
It also denies that the innate worth of a racehorse is reflected in its speed or other physical attributes, as it is in a race, and places the most value on the ability to manage a horse’s energy and appetite, something that isn’t necessarily measurable.
The Times article, like a host of other horse-racing stories in the media, is an opportunity for the industry to dodge or deflect criticism by attacking PETA, the activist group that produced the video. But it is a mistake to conflate hostility toward the organization with dismissal of its work. Virtually no one outside of racing cares how PETA got its undercover videos; they only care about what is contained in them. Those things were stolen from Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keepthename, Creative Plan, and Laoban. They must not be stolen from the thousands of young horses to come. Unless serious reform comes soon, the future of horse racing is in doubt. It is time to admit that the sport kills horses and do everything in its power to stop it.