The Dark Side of Horse Racing

One of the most exciting things to do is watch a horse race. The earth seems to shake as the mass of hooves barrel down the stretch. The roar of the crowd is deafening. Then there’s the thrill of a win. But there’s a dark side to the sport that hasn’t gone away. Horses are pushed beyond their limits and subjected to cocktails of legal and illegal drugs intended to mask injuries and artificially enhance performance. As a result, horses are frequently broken down and sent to slaughterhouses, where they are often slaughtered without any anesthesia. Many ethical veterinarians leave the industry because they are disheartened by watching trainers over-medicate and over-train their horses, eventually breaking them down and leading to untimely deaths. Random drug testing is in place, but egregious violations are commonplace.

There are three types of people in the horse racing business: crooks who dangerously drug their horses and countenance such conduct from their agents; dupes who labor under the fantasy that the sport is broadly fair and honest; and the masses in between, honorable souls who know it’s more crooked than it ought to be but still don’t do all they can to fix it.

A horse race is a contest between two or more competing horses in which the winner receives a certain sum of money, usually determined by a pool of bets, known as the mutuel pool. The mutuel pools are the total sums bet on a race, the win pool, daily double pool and exacta pool. In addition, there are separate pools for each of the first two finishers, and a sextuple (or quinella) wager that picks all six winning horses in order.

In the United States, flat races are run over a variety of distances, from as short as five furlongs to as long as four miles. Sprints are typically considered a test of speed, while longer races, which are called “routes” in the United States and “staying races” in England, are a test of stamina.

As the sport of horse racing has become more lucrative, so have breeding fees and sales prices for foals. This, in turn, has led to a decline in the average age of racehorses when they enter the track. Traditionally, the best racehorses reach their peak ability at age five. But escalating purses, breeding fees and sale prices have made it less economically viable to race older horses.

While racing is a popular sport and is a source of entertainment for millions of fans, the burgeoning number of horses being raised solely for racing has created an enormous problem. Overbreeding, a host of injuries and breakdowns and, ultimately, slaughter, are putting the industry in jeopardy. Fortunately, growing awareness of the dark side of horse racing has fueled recent improvements and promises to continue pushing it in the right direction. Learn more about a range of issues that affect horses, from breeding to the use of illegal drugs and training techniques, by reading PETA’s groundbreaking investigations into overbreeding, abuse and slaughter of young horses, drug use and the transport of American racehorses to foreign slaughterhouses.

The Dark Side of Horse Racing
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