Horse racing is a sport that has transformed into a huge public-entertainment business with high stakes and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, but its essential feature remains the same: horses compete in a contest of speed or stamina. The winner is the one that crosses the finish line first.
A race is a competition between horses or jockeys that takes place on a track with a fixed distance and a set number of turns. In a horse race, humans perched on a horse compel the animal to run with a whip, while other people cheer and wager on which horse will win.
The horses have to overcome many obstacles on the way to the winning post, including traffic and other riders trying to get ahead of them. The speed and beauty of the horses as they fly over the course and make sharp turns draws crowds to the grandstands, where they can also bet on which horse will come in first.
It is a rough and grueling game, and many horses do not make it to the finish line alive. Death in the racing industry occurs from cardiovascular collapse, severe pulmonary hemorrhage and blunt-force head trauma caused by colliding with other horses or the track. The carcasses of dead horses can be found all over the country. The most common cause of death is a heart attack.
The deaths of racehorses are not isolated events, but a part of a flawed system that places profit above the health and safety of the animals. There is a general indifference to the welfare of the horses among the racing community. The best that can be hoped for is a major overhaul of the entire industry and its structures that places equine welfare as the highest priority.
This would include an ideological reckoning at the macro business and industry level, a complete restructuring of the breeding shed and aftercare and the integration of a natural equine lifestyle for racehorses. Donations from racing aficionados and gamblers are critical to funding these efforts, but they do not cancel out participation in the ongoing, often deadly, exploitation of young running horses that rely on those donations.
The racetrack crowds are mostly working-class men who periodically gather to watch races on bank after bank of TVs in the bowels of the grandstand. They clap and hoot in their language of choice, but the curses that rise with the stretch runs have the rhythm and ring of universal imprecations. Many of the bettors cheer a specific horse, such as Seabiscuit, but most cheer a number. A few of the hardestcore bettors are known by name. It is the ones who have a personal connection to a horse, whether they are hardcore bettors or casual visitors, that connect with a particular horse and will root for it in the big races. The rest simply hope to get a lucky break, a payday that might ease their financial straits for a week, a month or, if they are lucky, a lifetime.