The deaths of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit, America’s two most celebrated racehorses in recent years, have prompted a reckoning over horse racing’s ethics and integrity. But the sport can only begin to heal if it addresses the way horses are treated after they leave the track.
Horses are bred to be fast, but their massive torsos and spindly legs make them susceptible to breakdowns under the exorbitant physical stress of racing. Injuries are common, and even the most well-bred horse may be forced to retire with a career-ending injury like a shattered knee or crushed skull. And when a horse dies under the conditions of a race, it is cause for public outrage and for many would-be fans to stay away from the sport.
Those who still attend horse races are predominantly older, and new would-be fans are turned off by the sport’s frequent scandals involving animal welfare. It’s rare to see anyone under 60 at a track.
To attract younger fans, the sport must improve its image and address longstanding issues related to safety and doping. In addition, it must do a better job of explaining the science behind its betting system and how horses are selected for particular races.
For those who choose to place a bet, the racetrack offers a variety of wagers including win, place, and show, as well as exotic bets such as accumulator bets in which multiple bets are placed at different times during the race. The most popular method of betting in Europe and Australia is parimutuel, a system that allows winning bettors to receive all of the money wagered by losing bettors after a deduction by the track.
In the United States, horse racing is governed by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA). There are more than 1,100 licensed horse racing tracks nationwide and an estimated 1.4 million registered horses. The NTRA regulates horse racing through rules governing the breed, registration, and licensing of horses and their owners. In addition, the NTRA oversees the licensing of jockeys and track maintenance crews.
As with other sports, horse races are governed by rules to ensure fair play and the safety of participants. Among the most important rules are those that prohibit drug use. Despite the fact that racehorses are frequently given cocktails of legal and illegal drugs to mask injuries and enhance performance, this strategy has not yielded significant improvements in race times.
One theory is that inbreeding has reduced the genetic variance of racehorses. Another is that the huge breeding program has resulted in a “genetic plateau.”
In order to overcome this plateau, racehorses are encouraged to exercise at high intensities for extended periods of time. This intense training can lead to a condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, which causes bleeding in the lungs during exercise. To minimize the risk of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, most racehorses are treated with Lasix, a diuretic with performance-enhancing properties. However, Lasix has been linked to a number of serious health problems in horses, including severe kidney disease and heart valve abnormalities.