A Horse Race is a Contest of Speed – A Thunderclap That Shakes Up Racetrack Culture

horse race

A horse race is a contest of speed between horses ridden by jockeys or pulled by sulkies and their drivers. It is one of the oldest sports, and it developed from primitive contests of strength and stamina to a modern spectacle involving large fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment and enormous sums of money. But its essential feature remains unchanged: A horse that finishes first is the winner.

A brash new video from PETA alleges cruelty to horses at some of the sport’s top trainers. The incident is a thunderclap that has shaken up a racetrack culture that has long brushed aside the concerns of animal activists and of the general public about the equine welfare system.

The horses moved into the last of the day’s sun, their strides huge and hypnotic and drenched in pinkish light. They were a blur of movement and the sound of thousands of people cheering. War of Will took the lead, followed by Mongolian Groom and McKinzie, a chestnut colt with a long, powerful stride.

As they rounded the far turn, the pack began to close on the leaders. Suddenly, it was just three lengths back, and the jockeys on each horse began to pound their saddle pads and blow on their horses’ heads in an effort to coax them along faster.

They looked at each other, and the riders on the two best horses in the field — the favored ones, known as stars — began to huddle. Those two horsemen were the most experienced and successful trainers at the track, and they knew that if their horses didn’t finish ahead of those in front of them, they would have to settle for second.

“If we don’t win this one, we’ll never get another shot,” said the star rider on McKinzie. “And that’s not a good place to be.”

A small, feral minority of horsemen and women dangerously drug their horses and cheat the game by bribing officials and by racing illegally on bush tracks. There is also a larger group of horsemen and women who labor under the fantasy that racing is broadly fair and honest, and there are still more who, neither naive nor cheaters, see the truth and don’t do enough to change it.

This is the third category – the far-too-silent majority — from which serious reform must come. The sport must evolve to a point where the interests of its horses are at the center of everything it does, and that will mean addressing some very fundamental issues about how its for-profit business treats animals and about how society recognizes that those animals deserve some basic rights. The things that were taken from Eight Belles, Medina Spirit and Keepthename — to name just a few — must not be taken from the thousands of young horses who will follow them. The time to begin is now. The future of horse racing is at stake.