May 6, 2024

The Ugly Truth About Horse Racing

horse race

Horse racing is a sport of speed. But to run fast, a horse needs stamina. So trainers, veterinarians, and other professionals give them drugs to make them more robust and better able to handle the strain of running at high speeds. This is an ugly truth about the sport that racing insiders refuse to face. They prefer to blame PETA, the activists whom they love to hate.

It is true that most horse trainers, assistant trainers, jockeys, drivers, and caretakers care deeply about the horses they work with and would never intentionally harm them. But the fact is that horse racing is riddled with cruelty and violence. A growing awareness of the dark side of the sport is eroding its fan base and driving away revenue, race days, and entries. It is also exposing the sport to increased scrutiny of animal welfare.

The problems in racing go deep and wide, ranging from a lack of transparency to the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. But the most serious issue is a fundamental one: horse racing is a business that rewards people for cheating. And the alleged cheating goes on, decade after decade. This is because the industry is unwilling to police itself. State regulators are feckless, and there is no uniformity among jurisdictions. The people who develop drugs for the sport are always one step ahead of the officials who develop tests for them, and too many still within racing equate real reform with a bad-for-marketing acknowledgment of how bad things really are.

The sport’s image has been tarnished by scandals, including a decades-long drug-testing scandal that led to the deaths of more than 20 racehorses. But there are signs that things may be changing, fueled by improved breeding practices, a new generation of trainers who embrace better care for the animals they train, and the introduction of a series of measures intended to improve horse safety.

One example: a move to encourage more races by offering bigger purses, which draw more bettors and allow bettors to try to beat the favorite. Another is the development of a new system for testing horses, which will bring consistency and faster turnaround times.

The new system will be based on six labs, rather than just one, so that horses can be tested more quickly and in more locations. The hope is that it will reduce the number of samples that need to be sent off for analysis, allowing the labs to turn around results more quickly and provide greater confidence in the data that they produce. This is an important change, but it is only a start. Many more changes are needed to improve horse welfare and race integrity, including a major overhaul of the way that drugs are used in the sport and better training for young horses, which requires them to be ready to run at a much earlier age than in the past. This will require cooperation from a wide range of stakeholders, not just racing regulators and the federal government.