Gambling Blog The Downside of a Horse Race

The Downside of a Horse Race


Horse racing is one of the oldest sports, and its basic concept has undergone little change over the centuries. It’s a contest of speed between horses that are either ridden by jockeys or pulled by sulkies and their drivers. The horse that finishes first is declared the winner. Over the course of the 20th century, horse racing grew from a diversion for the leisure class into a huge public-entertainment business. But widespread cultural interest in the sport waned beginning in the 1980s.

Horse races can be exciting, but they’re not without their downsides. Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred racing is a world of injuries, drug abuse and gruesome breakdowns. Most horses are forced to sprint—often under the threat of whips and illegal electric shocks—at speeds so great that they sustain painful injuries, including a type of hemorrhage in their lungs called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH). To mask these injuries and boost performance, most horses are given cocktails of legal and illegal drugs, including sedatives, corticosteroids and even blood-thinning medications such as Lasix or Salix.

The earliest recorded horse races were in Greece from 700 to 40 B.C. Afterward, horse racing spread to Egypt and Persia, where the sport took on an increasingly elaborate and ritualized form. When the British settlers brought horses to America, they continued their enthusiasm for horse racing, which at that time mostly involved match races between two horses over several four-mile heats. The settlers also introduced new forms of racing, such as the standardized King’s Plates, in which six-year-olds carried 168 pounds and raced in two 2-mile heats to be declared winners. In addition, the settlers developed the practice of breeding racehorses for both beauty and performance.

Unlike in Europe, where reciprocity among studbooks was common, American racehorses were bred to run fast and to win. To this day, American racehorses have the best chance of winning a Triple Crown—the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes—of any breed in the world.

Aside from a few independent nonprofit rescue groups, most ex-racehorses do not receive adequate wraparound aftercare when they leave the track. They often end up in slaughter pipelines where they’re subject to arbitrary, sometimes outrageous ransom demands by brokers. The best way to save these horses is to support the handful of independent, grassroots groups that network, fundraise and work tirelessly to network, fundraise and rescue them.

This year’s Kentucky Derby comes in the wake of the deaths of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit, which prompted the sport to face its ethical challenges. The sport can begin by addressing the lack of an adequately funded, industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution for all horses leaving the track. This is the only way to prevent horses from hemorrhaging into the slaughter pipeline and then ending up in places like Louisiana, where they’re given Facebook posts and a short window of opportunity to be “bailed” before being shipped to Mexico or Canada to be slaughtered for their meat.