Horse races are a form of gambling in which bettors stake money on the outcome of a race. Depending on how many bets are placed on a particular horse, the odds of winning change. Typically, a horse must win by a certain margin in order to get paid. There are several ways to bet on a horse race, including placing a bet on the winner, betting to place and placing a bet on the show.
A horse race is an unnatural act in every way imaginable, and the industry’s claim that horses “love to compete” bears no relationship whatsoever to how they behave in nature, where they live and thrive as herd animals. On a track, humans perched on their backs compel them — with a whip — to run at breakneck speeds in close quarters, where injuries are incredibly common.
The sport has evolved from a primitive contest of speed and stamina into a spectacle involving large fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and huge sums of money, but its essential feature hasn’t changed much over the centuries. A horse that finishes the fastest wins.
There are many factors that can influence a horse’s ability to run fast, including its genetics and its fitness level. For example, some horses excel at sprinting while others are better suited for marathon racing. Identifying these differences and devising strategies that capitalize on them can make the difference between winning the Kentucky Derby or finishing dead last. Traditionally, trainers and jockeys have relied on centuries of experience, intuition and data from previous races to determine the best way to pace a horse’s effort.
One major source of the disparity in a horse’s ability to run is the handicap system, which adjusts the amount of weight a horse must carry through the course of a race based on its age, sex and past performance. Those factors are meant to create as level a playing field as possible, but they also give owners an incentive to push their horses beyond what they can do.
The result is that most horses are pushed well past their limits and often experience serious injuries, such as a life-threatening condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, in which blood pools in the lungs. To make matters worse, a cocktail of legal and illegal drugs is routinely used to mask injuries and artificially enhance a horse’s performance.
After a long career of competing, most racehorses end their lives in slaughterhouses. Those that don’t die in the course of a race will hemorrhage into the aftercare pipeline and be auctioned off to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada, where they will face brutal deaths. A few stalwart nonprofit rescue groups network, fundraise and work tirelessly to keep ex-racehorses out of this hellish cycle, but they can’t do it alone. Unless the industry addresses the fundamental problems with its business model, horses will continue to suffer. And that’s a tragedy for everyone.