The Darker Side of Horse Racing Revealed

Horse racing is one of the oldest sports in the world. It has evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses into a sport that involves massive fields, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment and enormous sums of money, but the basic concept remains the same. The horse that crosses the finish line first is the winner.

Despite the romanticized facade that the industry projects to the public, horse races are brutal affairs. Behind the scenes, they are a world of dangerous drug abuse, gruesome injuries, traumatic breakdowns, and slaughter. Moreover, there is no lifelong tracking system for the millions of Thoroughbreds that are created each year to race and breed, making them susceptible to being bought and sold infinitely and placed into unknown situations.

While the race-going public may enjoy the thrill of a close win, the sport is also rife with corruption and dishonesty. Many in the horse racing business are crooks who illegally drug and abuse horses and countenance such behavior by others. They are aided by dupes who labor under the illusion that horse racing is more generally fair and honest than it actually is, and a large number of honorable souls who know the industry is more crooked than it ought to be but don’t do all they could to fix it.

The New York Times article, “PETA Accuses Trainers of Cruelty,” is the latest in a series of exposes that have rocked the sport. Its publication, along with those of other groups like Animal Rights Now and The Times’ own Drape, has allowed the public to glimpse a bit of what racing insiders despise: a hidden universe of exploitation, cruelty, and murder.

The game of horse racing is a complex one, with a long and colorful history. Its roots are ancient, ranging from the Roman and Greek chariot races to Bedouin endurance races in the Arabian desert. The modern form of horse racing began in England at Newmarket in the 1600s. In America, organized racing began in the colonies under British control in 1664. By the Civil War, speed had become the goal in American Thoroughbred races, but before then, the emphasis was on stamina and a standardized race for six-year-olds carrying 168 pounds at four-mile heats was the model.