A horse race is a sporting event in which horses compete around a track, often for prize money. The horses may be ridden or driven, and they run on various types of tracks, including turf, dirt, or synthetic materials. Spectators place bets on the outcome of races, making racing a profitable industry for bookmakers. Critics of horse racing argue that it is inhumane and corrupt, while supporters claim that the sport is a legitimate form of entertainment and provides important funding for the care of retired racehorses.
The first organized horse races were held in Europe in the 16th century, and a few decades later they became popular in the United States. The sport rapidly developed into a global business that involves massive fields of runners and sophisticated equipment for monitoring their condition, but its basic concept has remained unchanged. Horses are pitted against each other in a contest of speed and stamina, and the winner takes all the money.
Despite the glamorous facade of the Triple Crown series and other elite races, horse racing is a brutal business that forces animals to sprint—often while being whipped and using illegal electric shocks—at speeds so fast that they suffer painful injuries and even hemorrhage from their lungs. Thousands of racehorses die each year, and despite improved medical treatment and technology, few are ever saved from an early, horrific end.
One way to reduce the number of horses that die from racing injuries is to limit the distances in which horses are forced to run. But that would require changing how the sport is regulated, and there are many obstacles in the path of reform.
While the governing body of horse racing in Britain has recently taken steps to address some of these problems, it is still far from solving them. For example, the British Horseracing Authority’s board has replaced a triumvirate of its own members, and it is not clear whether it will be willing to make the necessary changes.
In addition, horse racing is plagued by a long-running lack of an adequately funded industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution for all ex-racehorses. Currently, most are shipped to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada where they are subjected to inhumane, barbaric conditions, and only a few independent nonprofit rescue organizations have the means to help them. If not for these groups, the vast majority of former racehorses hemorrhage into the slaughter pipeline and meet the same fate as Eight Belles, who died at the age of 17 due to the stress she endured during her brief career.