The Horse Race Is Not Just A Spectacular Business
A horse race is a spectacle of power and grace, a for-profit business that has become one of America’s most popular forms of entertainment. But it is also an industry that exploits its athletes, pushing them to exhaustion and sometimes beyond in a pursuit of victory. Those who do not make the grade are sent to slaughter, most in Mexico or Canada. In their final hours, horses like Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keep The Name, and Creative Plan are stripped of dignity and their lives’ meaning by the for-profit machine that created them.
Horses race for money and glory, but they are also, at their core, prey animals who want to live and thrive. If they do not find that, they will not run. The best way to ensure their welfare is to stop the industry’s inexcusable exploitation of young racing horses.
In recent years, the industry has taken steps to curb abuse, but many trainers continue to employ illegal and harmful training techniques. A new video released by the animal rights group PETA exposes such practices at two of the country’s most revered race tracks: Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York. The video shows the alleged abuse of several top racehorses at the hands of two trainers: Steve Asmussen and Scott Blasi.
Racehorses are trained, fed and drugged for a reason: To win. To do that, they must be fit and fast. The sport grew out of the need for fast horses to compete in the lucrative sport of chariot racing. But while chariot races required the skills of a trained driver and a skilled chariot, horse racing demands much more than that.
The earliest horses were bred to be both fast and strong, and they were conditioned to be nimble in their movement, agile in the air, and quick to react. As these horses adapted to the sport, they were altered further. The use of powerful painkillers that were originally designed for humans, blood doping, growth hormones and other performance enhancers became commonplace.
As a result, the horse race as we know it today evolved. The game is awash in a sea of drugs and reliant on sophisticated testing to detect them. But even when a trainer is caught, the punishment is often too little, too late: A sanction in one jurisdiction simply allows him to move to another.
The sport cannot survive without addressing its lack of an adequately funded industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution for all ex-racehorses. Until that changes, the money donated to the sport by racing enthusiasts and gamblers will continue to fund the continued exploitation of younger running horses. And that is a bleak future for Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Creative Plan and thousands of other horses. *All names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.