Horse racing is the sport in which horses, ridden by jockeys, are driven at high speed around a circular racetrack. Prize money is awarded to the first, second and third place finishers. The sport is considered a major source of entertainment in many countries and has a history dating back to Greek Olympic Games in 700 to 40 B.C.
The latest scandal in American horse racing involves trainer Steve Asmussen and his top assistant, Scott Blasi. The pair train world-class thoroughbreds at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky and Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York. Asmussen and Blasi are highly regarded in horse racing, with a combined record of more than 1,700 victories. Their treatment of the horses, however, has come under intense scrutiny. The Times, which has published a video of the training procedures, has sparked an outcry among animal rights activists.
As a result, both trainers are facing the prospect of losing their license to operate at the tracks where they train. They also are under pressure from racing officials to withdraw their horses from the races, despite concerns about their condition.
Racing is a brutal sport, in which horses are pushed far beyond their limits. The lower legs of horses, especially those on oval tracks, take a tremendous pounding, straining ligaments and tendons. They must run fast to outrun their rivals, and many need encouragement—whipped by jockeys—to continue running hard when they are tired. In order to keep them going, most racehorses are infused with cocktails of legal and illegal drugs that mask injuries and enhance performance.
Many of these substances, known as “bleeders,” cause a problem called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, or EIPH, in which the horses bleed from their lungs while running. To decrease this bleeding, the horses are given a cocktail of medications that includes Lasix and Salix, diuretics with performance-enhancing properties.
The racing industry says these drugs are necessary to make horses as competitive as possible. But critics say the industry’s use of bleeders and other drugs is an attempt to disguise a system that treats horses badly.
Bettors often look at a horse’s coat in the walking ring before a race to judge whether it is bright and rippling with muscled excitement, as it should be. A bright coat is a sign that a horse is ready to run and will likely win its race. A dull one suggests a tired or sick animal that will lose.
When a horse is injured in a race, it can’t be ridden and must be scratched from the race. When a horse is scratched, the owner loses the entrance fees paid by its owners and the nomination and entry fees paid by other horses to enter the race. These nomination and entry fees are used to pay the purse—the total amount of prize money distributed to the winners of a race. In a stakes race, the higher level of the race, the more the winnings are.