Horse race is a sport where horses are pushed beyond their physical limits to entertain crowds. The exorbitant stress of racing often leads to broken limbs, cardiac arrest, and even death. Even the champions suffer. The deaths of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit sparked a reckoning with the sport’s ethics and integrity. But the deaths of horses continues to be commonplace.
The first horse races in North America were held in New Amsterdam (now New York City) in 1664 during the British occupation of the city. The first organized race was for two miles with a silver cup awarded to the winner. The classic concept of horse racing is that the fastest and best horse wins. However, this is not always the case in the modern world of horse racing where the top horses are often assigned a handicap.
This handicap is set centrally or by individual tracks with the goal of rendering all horses equal in a race. Typically, the handicap is set with a certain amount of weight to be carried by a particular age and class of horse. The resulting winning times are not the best measure of a horse’s ability because they may be influenced by many factors such as their position in the starting gates, the ‘going’, the tactics used, and the jockey and rider’s skills.
Unlike most sports where one set of rules applies to all teams and athletes, horse racing has a patchwork of rules in the dozens of states that host the sport. These state rules govern everything from the use of whips to the types of medications a trainer can give his or her horses.
As a result, some state rules are more stringent than others. This makes it very easy for a trainer who breaks one state’s rules to run his or her horses in another jurisdiction shortly thereafter. The system also means that there is a potential conflict between state and federal laws.
It is no wonder that the number of fans of horse racing continues to decline in America and elsewhere. Many people are turned off by the fact that horses are killed for entertainment and because of the widespread doping in the sport. New would-be fans are also dissuaded by the high rate of injuries and deaths in the industry.
The most important step that horse racing needs to take is to change the way it does business. It must stop relying on crowds to keep itself alive and start thinking of ways to make the sport sustainable. This will require a commitment to improving the welfare of the horses that are the backbone of this sport. Until this happens, horse racing will continue to be a sport in trouble. And it is only a matter of time before that comes to an end. In the meantime, horse racing is losing a valuable customer: the younger generation. And this is a shame, because younger people are the key to the future of every sport.