The Indelible Mark of a Horse Race

A horse race is a contest of speed among horses that are either ridden by jockeys or pulled by sulkies. It can be a thrilling spectacle, especially when it’s close and has big stakes. But it can also be stressful and dangerous for the animals involved. Horse races are one of the oldest and most popular sports in the world, and they’ve left an indelible mark on culture and history.

The horse race industry is in the midst of a crisis. Its great gaming monopoly has devolved into a rudderless mess. Most potential horse-racing customers, it found, don’t really care about horse racing.

In the past, people were drawn to horse racing for its power and beauty. They sat in the grandstand to cheer a favorite horse, whether a favored long shot or a resounding underdog. They rooted for Seabiscuit and others with the same fanaticism as people who root for a football team or a baseball star. These fans tended to be working-class people who needed a break from tight family budgets for a week, a month or, if they bet wisely, a lifetime.

People were also drawn to the money, the chance to win big in a sport that was once known as a game of skill. It was not uncommon for an experienced rider to earn tens of thousands of dollars per year. A successful horse owner could even make millions in a short time, especially when his or her best horses won the biggest events.

Eventually, the sport became more accessible and open to the public. Rules were developed to limit the number of horses in a race and allow for handicapping, which gives the runners a higher or lower weight based on their performance in earlier races. Eligibility rules were established to include such factors as age, sex, birthplace and training.

But the most important rule of all was safety. After spates of fatal horse-racing deaths, most states now require a thorough necropsy after every death on the track. Those reports are reviewed, vet records examined and stakeholders interviewed to learn what went wrong and how the tragedy could be prevented in the future.

But the truth is that we’ll never know the true number of horse deaths on the tracks. Many are the result of accidents, but others, like Eight Belles, died as a result of the stress and exertion she was put through in her brief racing career. People who witness a catastrophic equine death and move on with nothing more than a pang of sadness are doing a disservice to the horses.