Horse racing is a sport that’s been around for centuries. It has evolved from a primitive contest of speed and stamina between two horses into a spectacle with huge fields of runners and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, but its basic concept remains the same: the horse that crosses the finish line first is the winner. Some people criticize the sport, arguing that it’s inhumane and corrupted by doping and overbreeding. Others, however, say that horse races are still an exciting way to spend an afternoon.
Whether they like it or not, race fans have to confront the fact that horse racing is a business that prioritizes profit over animal welfare. Despite the industry’s avowed commitment to protect the horses in its care, countless horses experience injuries, fatal breakdowns and are ultimately slaughtered each year. In fact, one out of every six Thoroughbreds that race die at the track.
The most important thing for the industry to do is to change this. Horse racing needs to evolve its business model with the best interests of the horses as the highest priority. This will require a major paradigm shift and a profound change in the culture of the sport. Until this happens, racing will continue to lose its core audience, as well as new would-be customers.
For example, in the aftermath of the Santa Anita disaster, many people who used to bet on horse races are now turning their attention elsewhere. According to the research group IBISWorld, the number of Americans who gambled on horses dropped by about 10% in the aftermath of the deaths. This drop is partly due to the perception that horse racing is less safe than other forms of gambling, but it also reflects the widespread discontent with the treatment of the sport’s horses.
One example is the surface of the track at Santa Anita, which has been described as “hard.” This is not a good surface for horses, especially those who are trained to be fast. Hard tracks cause horses to pound their feet, which can lead to fractures and other serious injuries. They also lack the elasticity that makes it possible for horses to run far and fast. A horse’s leg works like a big spring, stretching and then re-engaging to propel it forward. When a horse is running on a hard track, its legs can become tired and overworked quickly.
The surface at Santa Anita has also been blamed for the many breakdowns that occurred during this Breeders’ Cup. The problem is that horses in training are constantly pushed to run on surfaces that have a hard edge and a lot of grip, so when they hit those surfaces they may fall on their back or their front, or get caught in the mud or gravel. This can be devastating to the horses, leading to fatal accidents like those that happened at Santa Anita.