What is a Horse Race?

What is a Horse Race?

horse race

A horse race is a contest of speed among horses, either ridden by jockeys or pulling sulkies with their drivers. This form of racing is a centuries-old sport, and it has been practiced in civilizations throughout the world. It is a sport that is both popular and controversial, with supporters and critics alike. In the United States, organized horse races started in the early 1600s and are now a multibillion-dollar industry. The competition is a complex one, with rules of participation and judging that are designed to keep the game fair for both participants and wagering customers.

The story that the public hears about horse races is one of gritty, hard-fought athletes. The truth, however, is that racing is a cruel and violent enterprise. The animal rights organization PETA estimates that ten thousand American thoroughbreds are killed each year by the sport, and most of those who survive spend the rest of their lives in solitary confinement in a stall. These animals are drugged, whipped, and pushed to the brink of their physical capacity. The notion that a horse’s life is meaningful because it wins a few races is what psychologist Dr Stephen Peters calls “anthropomorphism.” Money and trophies are abstractions for a prey animal, and the primary concern for a racehorse is survival.

There was no such thing as a fair horse race before the era of doping and other forms of manipulation. Until recently, trainers could use powerful legal steroids to improve the performance of their horses, and racing officials were powerless to stop them. They also relied on other substances, including antipsychotics and anti-inflammatories, to maintain the health of the animals. The rules were often unclear, and the testing capacity was insufficient to catch most of the doping, with the result that many trainers got away with it.

In the days leading up to this May’s Kentucky Derby, it was revealed that War of Will, a colt by Nick Alexander, had been given a dose of a banned substance. The horse had been injected with Lasix, a diuretic that is marked in the racing form with a boldface “L.” The drug’s stated purpose is to prevent pulmonary bleeding caused by intense running. But it is known that the drug has a side effect that causes the horse to unload epic quantities of urine—twenty or thirty pounds’ worth.

As the race began, it was clear that War of Will would win, with Mongolian Groom and McKinzie just behind him. The crowd was ecstatic, and the television coverage was riveting. But for the horses, it was a nightmare. The crowded, deep dirt track, combined with the pounding of the other runners’ hooves, would have been crushing for them. They are prey animals, after all, and they would have preferred to be in the middle of the pack, where they could see and dodge their rivals. It was the only way to be safe and avoid the violence ahead of them.