Horse racing is a centuries-old sport that draws crowds to the grandstands, fills betting windows and drives wagering, with stakes higher for the most prominent events. The races are a test of skill, endurance and courage for racehorses who are often inseparable from their owners. For fans, it is an exciting spectacle, but for the horses involved, it’s a brutal business.
Among the most famous races are the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Saratoga Championship. In addition, the Grand National at Aintree in Liverpool, England is a grueling two-mile contest that features thirty obstacles that horses must clear before reaching the finish line.
It’s hard to say when horse racing first began, but archeological evidence suggests it occurred in ancient Greece and Rome. It later spread to other civilizations, including Egypt, Babylon and Syria. It has also been a significant part of mythology, such as the contest between Odin’s and Hrungnir’s steeds in Norse myth.
In North America, organized racing dates back to 1664, when Col. Richard Nicolls established a 2-mile course at New Amsterdam (now part of the city of New York) and offered a silver cup to the winners of spring and fall races. The emphasis in early American Thoroughbred racing was stamina, not speed. After the Civil War, the speed advantage became the goal.
The equine industry is built on the idea that the best interests of the horse are the highest priority, but in reality that hasn’t always been the case. Instead, the industry has favored its own business model over the needs of the animals in its care. And that has resulted in serious problems.
A few good people make up a tiny percentage of the industry and work tirelessly to improve conditions for the horses. But most racing aficionados aren’t willing to make the changes required.
There will probably never be a wake-up call that results in the best interests of the horse becoming the focus of horseracing. That’s a shame, because the horses deserve better than to be forced to run in a for-profit enterprise where they are bred, raced and slaughtered for a few bucks.
The good people who work in the horse industry need to take a long hard look at what’s going on inside their businesses and realize that they aren’t doing enough to ensure a positive future for their horses. Otherwise, we’ll continue to see tragedies such as Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keepthename and Creative Plan. We can’t let that happen. The time for reform is now. And that will require a major shift in the way racing approaches its business and a recognition that it’s time to stop putting profits above animal welfare.*