A horse race is a competitive athletic competition between one or more horses that are trained to run over a set distance. Typically the race is open to the general public and bettors place wagers on each horse’s chances of winning the race. Whether the race is on dirt, grass or in an arena, it involves both stamina and speed. The horse with the fastest times wins the race. Despite the popularity of horse racing, many people have concerns about animal welfare, safety, and treatment. The sport has been criticized for its dependence on drugs and the use of inhumane training methods. In addition, horse racing has a high mortality rate. Approximately ten thousand American thoroughbreds are killed each year, and many more are slaughtered in Canada and Mexico. In addition to the many deaths that occur, there are serious injuries and illnesses affecting horses.
In the early days of organized racing, Thoroughbreds were bred for endurance rather than speed. This changed after the Civil War, when speed became the goal. As the sport became more popular, rules were established regarding the age, sex, birthplace and previous performance of horses to determine eligibility for races. Races were also created for which owners could be the riders and in which only a certain number of horses were allowed to compete.
As the industry evolved, it was not uncommon for trainers to take illegal drugs in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage. These substances included sedatives, painkillers, a growth hormone and blood doping. Racing officials couldn’t keep up with the new medications and lacked the capacity to test for them all. Furthermore, a trainer punished for using banned substances in one jurisdiction could simply move to another.
After the Santa Anita Park disaster in 2019, some states enacted laws to improve the safety of horses and the conditions at racetracks. However, other experts say that the cost of implementing these changes could be too costly for some smaller track owners to bear.
Aside from the obvious (the pedigree of a horse) and financial (win/loss records, earnings per start, etc), the most important factor in determining a horse’s chance of victory is its speed. This is true for both flat and jumps races, but it is especially important in the flat races.
The most prestigious flat races in the world, such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup in Australia, the Japan Cup and Epsom Derby in England, and the Dubai World Cup in the United Arab Emirates are all held over distances that require both stamina and speed.
There are essentially three types of people involved in horse racing: the crooks who dangerously drug and otherwise abuse their horses; those who labor under the false illusion that the sport is broadly fair and honest; and the masses of honorable souls who know it’s more crooked than it ought to be and don’t do all they could to fix it. Against this backdrop, there’s no question that PETA is playing an important role in making horse racing better. But it’s a mistake to conflate hostility toward the organization with dismissal of its work.