The sight of a field full of thundering hooves barreling down the stretch during a horse race is one of the quintessential Kentucky experiences. The feeling of the earth shake as a mass of horses pound down the track is unmatched in any sport, and it’s an experience that many people look forward to every year. But while this spectacle is a thrill to behold, not all that happens behind the scenes is right.
A video posted by PETA on its website and linked in the New York Times story reveals some of what is happening at the highest levels of thoroughbred racing, a scandal that should lead to serious reform. The video, which focuses on trainers Steve Asmussen and Scott Blasi, provides the public with an eye-opening look at some of what animal rights activists have been alleging for years about the treatment of world-class horses.
In a sport where fans and bettors are increasingly turning away from organized horse racing, these videos could be the tipping point. A burgeoning interest in other gambling activities is partly to blame, but so are countless stories of drug use and alleged abuse of horses. The sport’s many critics argue that the emphasis on breeding for speed and a lack of strict regulation has led to less hardy stock, and that medication is all too common in the form of pain relievers and other drugs to keep horses competitive.
Some of these drugs are legal, but they’re not good for the horse. In fact, they can lead to a variety of problems, including weight gain and respiratory issues. Injuries and breakdowns are also common, and the result is often a trip to the auction and then euthanasia or slaughter in foreign factories. The 2008 death of Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby was a particularly horrifying reminder that horse racing can be a dangerous, even deadly business.
The horse racing industry may have improved since the tragic loss of Eight Belles, but it’s a safe bet that no amount of money will ever make it right. The industry is losing fans, revenue and race days at an alarming rate. Many would-be fans are turned off by the constant controversies, and many who remain are frustrated at the lack of serious reforms.