Day: January 10, 2024

The Horse Race – A Spectacular Spectacular

A horse race, a dazzling spectacle in which horses and their riders compete for glory, is one of the most ancient sports. The sport evolved from primitive contests of speed and stamina between two horses to a modern spectacle involving huge fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and immense sums of money. But the core concept has remained unchanged: The first horse to cross the finish line wins.

In recent years, a spate of horse deaths — most notably 30 at Santa Anita in California last year — has sparked a series of safety reforms. New protocols now require a necropsy after every death, and vet records are examined to determine whether the accident was preventable. California and New York now keep public databases of equine injuries and fatalities. The rest of the country lags behind, but growing awareness is a powerful driving force in improving racing.

Some people believe that horse races are cruel and inhumane, while others believe that the “Sport of Kings,” as it is sometimes called, represents the pinnacle of achievement for its competitors, and that despite its shortcomings, the sport has a place in American culture. But it is impossible to deny that many of the horses who run in the world’s greatest races are subjected to extraordinary physical stress and, as a result, often suffer painful and debilitating injuries.

This story, based on undercover video from PETA, exposes some of the brutality that is all too common at the highest levels of thoroughbred racing. Whether you are a fan of the sport or not, it is hard to watch these images without being deeply shaken by them.

Certainly, the vast majority of horsemen and women in racing are well-meaning and committed to treating their animals with care. But the truth is that there are a significant number of cheaters and bad actors in the sport, and they must be rooted out and prosecuted. Then there are the good-faith efforts to improve conditions, which must be supported and continued.

Mary Alice O’Connell is a researcher and writer at The Atlantic, where she covers sports and hobbies. A former sports editor, she has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading and cooking.

**UPDATE 2/23/20: Since publishing this article, PETA has released additional undercover video from its investigation of trainer Steve Asmussen and his assistant Scott Blasi. Click here for more information.

This piece originally appeared in The Atlantic, a nonprofit, nonpartisan magazine that features original journalism and provides an essential, diverse voice in our country’s conversations about politics and ideas. Subscribe now for a year of unlimited access to all our stories, and more. It’s just $5.99 a month or $19.99 for a year. Learn more about subscriptions here.

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