Horse racing has long been one of the most popular spectator sports in the world. While the sport has an undeniable appeal for fans, the reality is that horse races are a source of extreme violence and suffering for horses. Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred horse racing is a world of drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. Hundreds of thousands of horses race each year, often under the threat of whips and illegal electric shock devices, at speeds that cause them to bleed from their lungs. Sadly, many of these horses end up being discarded or abandoned and sent to slaughter after their race career has ended. Those who survive the ordeals of the racetrack typically hemorrhage into a slaughter pipeline, where they are often shipped to places like Mexico and Canada, where they are subjected to arbitrary and outrageous ransoms for their freedom from the cruel industry.
In the most prestigious races, called conditions races, horses are assigned a weight to carry for fairness. This is generally determined by the horse’s age, sex, and distance history. In other races, the horses are grouped into categories based on their ability, and the highest-ranked are assigned the most weight. This is referred to as handicapping the races.
These races offer the biggest purses. Some races are categorized as head-to-heads, which compare the best horses against each other. Others are star turn races, which elevate the performance of a particular horse to the level of greatness. Examples include Secretariat’s 31-length demolition of the Belmont Stakes and Arkle’s victory in the 1964 Gold Cup.
After a horse is paraded and warmed up, it is led into a starting gate consisting of small metal stalls. Attendants then direct the horse into the gate and take hold of it to keep it calm until the gate flies open at the sound of the start. This is an extremely dangerous time for horses, as they can get flipped and pinned inside the gate (23).
At the sound of the starter’s flag, the jockeys mount their horses and the race begins. The horses run around a mile or more and make two turns. During the first few miles, the speed of the race is slow, and jockeys try to stay atop their mounts by getting into a semisquat position while balancing on the stirrups. However, the horses’ movements become faster as they approach the final turn and they can be thrown off their mounts, which causes a variety of injuries, including lower limb fractures and dislocations (22).
The most popular horse races are the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes, which together comprise the American Triple Crown. These are considered the most important races for thoroughbreds, and winning a Derby or Belmont Stakes can significantly boost a horse’s career earnings. Other famous races in the world are the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, the Caulfield and Sydney Cups in Australia, the Argentinean Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini, and the Dubai World Cup in the UAE.