A horse race is a competition between horses and their jockeys. In order to win a race, the winning horse must travel the entire course, jump any hurdles (if present) and cross the finish line before the other horses and their riders. The race is usually held on a dirt or synthetic surface, and the winning horse and jockey are awarded prize money. The race is observed by a number of officials, including patrol judges and stewards.
Whether you love or hate horse racing, there’s no denying its influence on culture and history. But for many people, the sport’s romance has obscured a darker reality: injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter.
The earliest settlers brought horses to America, and by the 1830s the sport had become so popular that an English traveler remarked that it “roused more interest than a presidential election.” A few years later, the first major races pitted horses from the North against those from the South. These matches grew even more popular as they became a symbol of sectional differences in American politics.
Horse racing has long been a popular pastime for bettors, whether hardcore daily ones or casual visitors to the grandstands. Bettors cheered a horse by its name, such as Seabiscuit, or by its number, like 3. Those who couldn’t connect with a specific horse often rooted for one of the race’s top runners, a favorite whose victory would yield them substantial payouts.
While a certain amount of wagering on horse races is legal, the activity isn’t without risk. The proximity of the horses and the frantic, risk-taking riding style increase the likelihood of undesired dismounts, which can result in life-threatening injuries for both the horse and the rider. Those who have ridden for a living, or as a part-time hobby, know the dangers of riding and are required to be licensed by the state.
Injuries are a common occurrence in equestrian sports, and horse races are no exception. The pounding and whipping of horses while they’re being pushed to sprint, combined with the shaky ground beneath them, can cause severe injuries. Horses who are injured during a race or in training often suffer from an injury called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage and bleed from their lungs. Some of them will recover, but others won’t and are sold to new owners or sent straight to the slaughter pipeline.
The horse-racing industry needs to take a profound ideological reckoning at the macro business level and within itself, taking steps that prioritize horses’ welfare from breeding to aftercare and embracing a more natural equine lifestyle. If the horses aren’t put first, it is only a matter of time before public support for the sport dries up. Until then, horse-race coverage will continue to be essential to election coverage, providing voters with a window on the closed world of insider politics.