Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred horse racing is a world of drugs, injuries, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. While spectators wear frocks, drink mint juleps and cheer their favorite riders, horses sprint – often in the presence of whips – to the death at speeds that are both exhilarating and dangerous. These animals, mostly still in adolescence, are regularly subjected to the intense physical stress of hard racing and will, on occasion, suffer from catastrophic heart attacks or hemorrhage in the lungs. In addition, they are injected with cocktails of legal and illegal substances to mask the pain of running and artificially enhance their performance.
Horse races are held in many countries around the world. Some, such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France and the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in America make up the American Triple Crown series of elite horse races. Other world-famous races include the Caulfield Cup in Australia, the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini in Argentina and the Wellington Cup in New Zealand. These races are among the most prestigious in the world and, like the Triple Crown series, attract the attention of television networks and betting outlets.
In order to win a race, a horse must finish first across the finishing line. To achieve this, a horse must complete the race in a certain number of laps (or kilometres), and must jump every hurdle (if present). Horses may also be disqualified if they show egregious violations of the rules.
The rules of horse racing vary between national governing bodies. However, the vast majority of horse races are run using the same basic rules. For example, a horse must be no more than six years old to compete in most races. In addition, races are handicapped by age and sex (i.e. fillies carry less weight than stallions).
While some efforts have been made to improve the welfare of racehorses, it is important to remember that racing is a brutal sport that is never safe for them. The deaths of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit have highlighted the issue, but they are not alone: horses die every week in racing and training due to heart failure or pulmonary hemorrhage. It is time for the industry to acknowledge the truth, accept responsibility and ensure that horses are safe. This would not only save thousands of horses from needless and untimely death, it would also allow horse racing to reclaim its place in a modern culture and society – and potentially a justice system – that recognizes animals as having fundamental rights. The same things that were stolen from Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keepthename and the thousands of other horses to come can be returned if the industry starts to respect these animals’ lives.