The sound of a race horse’s hooves pounding the track is a thrilling sound. The sight of the sleek, muscular beasts rushing by is even more exhilarating. The roar of bettors echoes in the grandstand. The cursing, in Spanish and Chinese, rises with the stretch run of the horses. It’s a sport that has a storied history.
The first documented race was held in France in 1651, the result of a wager between two noblemen. During the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), racing became a popular sport and was regulated by royal decree. He organized a jockey club and set rules that included requiring certificates of origin for horses and imposing extra weight on foreigners. He also established a system for rating horses and determining their class, or grade, which is still used today.
Today’s horse racing is a huge business that involves hundreds of races a year. The sport is regulated by dozens of state and national organizations. It is unique among major sports in the United States because of the tangled web of laws and regulations that govern it. There are different standards for the use of whips during a race, and penalties for trainers and owners vary by jurisdiction.
One of the main problems with horse racing is that it’s a skewed industry. The sport attracts a small number of predatory people who exploit the animals, whose natural urge to run is overpowered by their need to bet. And it has a far-too-large population of those who can see that things are wrong but won’t give their all to right them.
To be eligible for a race, a horse must have a pedigree (family tree). This is determined by the horses’ father and mother and includes both the sire and dam. It is one of the reasons why horse racing is such a complex and costly sport: a single horse can cost millions of dollars.
A recent story in The New York Times has shed some light on what happens at the highest levels of thoroughbred racing. The story, based on video provided by animal activist group PETA, centers around the trainer Steve Asmussen and his top assistant Scott Blasi. Many in the industry are quick to dismiss the story and the video on the same basis that they have dismissed other undercover video allegedly showing animal cruelty in other sports, such as football and basketball. But that’s a mistake. Virtually no one outside of the sport cares how PETA gets its videos; they only care about what they show.