Horse racing has a long and complex history. It was first established in ancient Greece and then spread to the neighboring countries of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Today it is one of the world’s most popular sports and an international industry that generates billions of dollars in wagering. The sport is regulated by the governments of many nations, but its governance differs greatly from nation to nation. In England the Jockey Club is responsible for long-term policy, while in most other countries a state or national racing commission regulates the sport.
Racing takes place on a variety of surfaces, including dirt, grass and synthetic track. Races may be short sprints or much longer distances, with the latter generally referred to as routes in America and staying races in Europe. Speed and stamina are equally important in both types of racing. Some horses are specialized, for example, for sprints or staying races, while others are used in both. A runner’s past performance, earnings and bloodlines determine his chances of winning.
The race was a beautiful sight: eleven horses broke cleanly from the gate, and then ran together with huge strides and hypnotic smoothness. War of Will, that year’s Preakness winner, held the lead around the clubhouse turn, with Mongolian Groom and McKinzie a half length back. But on the far turn, Vino Rosso, a big chestnut colt, surged on the outside and overtook them all.
Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred horse racing is a world of drug abuse, injuries, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. After a series of fatal accidents, most notably 30 at Santa Anita in California in 2019, racing reforms were instituted, including requiring necropsies and an investigation into contributing factors for every death on the track. Some states, like New York and California, also maintain public databases of equine deaths.
In addition to the humane care that must be provided for injured and sick horses, a racetrack’s safety is ensured by strict rules governing racing surface and track dimensions, as well as training methods and medications. The national governing body of horse racing recently adopted a comprehensive set of rules, replacing the patchwork of standards in 38 different U.S. states, that take effect on May 22.
But a slew of allegations continues to surface, including claims that horseracing promotes gambling and money laundering, as well as reports of illegal track conditions that can cause serious injuries. Some of the most disturbing claims include a secret video by a member of PETA that shows an inmate using an electric shock device to train a racehorse for a brutal cockfight. The Times cited the video in its article, and some racing insiders have responded by attacking the messenger—PETA, which has a reputation for going undercover to expose animal cruelty. But virtually no one outside of the racing industry cares how PETA gets its videos, the same way that they don’t care how other organizations acquire undercover footage of alleged abuse and neglect.