Horse race is an event where a group of horses run around a track, often over hurdles or fences. The horses are driven by jockeys who guide them on their way, and bettors place bets to win the contest. The sport has a rich history and is an important part of culture in many parts of the world. The contest between the steeds of the gods in Norse mythology is an example of the importance of horse racing.
The basic concept of horse racing has remained virtually unchanged over centuries. The horse that completes the fastest sprint is the winner. The sport evolved from a diversion for the leisure class into a vast public entertainment business. It now features large fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and huge sums of money. But it’s still a dangerous game. The 2008 death of Eight Belles and the subsequent collapse of the star-crossed Medina Spirit have sparked a much-needed reckoning with horse race’s ethics, integrity, and safety.
Despite the rosy public image, there’s a dark side to Thoroughbred horse racing: injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. Behind the romanticized facade, racehorses are forced to sprint—often under threat of whips and illegal electric shockers—at speeds so high that they frequently sustain injuries and suffer gruesome breakdowns. Many bleed from their lungs, a condition known as exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. The industry masks these injuries and enhances performance by doping the animals with cocktails of legal and illegal drugs.
The equestrian world’s long history of cruelty and abuse has made it a particularly difficult sport to regulate. Many states do not keep comprehensive records of equine injuries or deaths. The industry has resisted calls to adopt centrally-set rules, but the public’s increasing awareness and dismay have prompted reform.
A few years ago, the industry’s worst year in terms of fatalities was in 2022. Since then the number of equine injuries has decreased dramatically thanks to new protocols. The racing establishment has also finally agreed to a national registry for racehorses, and to share this information with regulators and the media.
In the future, horses will be subject to strict health and welfare regulations, based on scientific evidence. These standards will be applied to all races, including the most prestigious ones. These changes should help to reduce the risk of horses dying to entertain us. They’ll never be able to replace Seabiscuit, but they’ll do their best.