The horse race has always been a dangerous, even deadly sport. Behind the romanticized facade, it is a world of broken limbs, drug abuse and gruesome breakdowns that can lead to death from hemorrhaging lungs or worse. Thousands of horses die every year, some at the elite level of the sport that has been lauded as the most American of sports. Eight Belles and Medina Spirit are two of the most famous examples, but there is no shortage of others. They are the faces of horses who died during the exorbitant physical stress of racing. Thousands of others have suffered the same fate, with their lives cut short by an industry that is indifferent to their well-being.
There are many reasons why the sport is struggling, but one major factor is a lack of new fans. The industry is aging, and young people are turning away from betting on races. This decline in interest is exacerbated by news coverage that is focused on scandals involving horse welfare and doping. The result is that racing is a sport largely dominated by older and white males, with an underlying demographic that is increasingly hostile to it.
In recent years, there have been a handful of high-profile stories that have highlighted abuse at the highest levels of the sport. These have included allegations of egregious cruelty against horses by trainer Steve Asmussen, as well as the killing of a young filly named Seamless by assistant trainer Scott Blasi. These allegations have helped fuel a growing backlash against the sport, with many people questioning whether horse racing is ethical and sustainable.
Many of these allegations have been based on undercover video filmed by PETA. The video was widely published by The Times and has led to the resignation of several racing officials. While it is easy to dismiss the accusations as anti-racing propaganda, the facts are that there is a lot of truth to them.
The best way for the industry to help itself is to address its lack of a full wraparound aftercare solution for all the horses it creates and profits off in racing, breeding and other ventures. It is unacceptable for the industry to create as many horses as it likes, profit from them in racing and breeding, and then send them into a world where they are at risk of injury, illness or death. The same can be said for the thousands of other retired racehorses who hemorrhage into the slaughter pipeline every year, and whose deaths remain invisible to the public. It is time for the industry to stop hiding behind the tatters of its own mythology and show that it cares about these horses. Then maybe some of those donations from gamblers and industry folks will go to helping them instead of covering up the cruelty.