Horse racing is a sport in which horses are ridden or driven in a course of races for a stake. Most horse races are flat races, although steeplechases and hurdles are also popular. Races are held over a range of distances and are judged on speed, stamina, and style (for example, how well a horse jumps). Horses are often ranked by their performance in various events, including the major international flat races such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Melbourne Cup, and Japan Cup.
In the past, horses were bred for stamina and endurance rather than speed. However, with the advent of American Thoroughbreds, speed became more important and a more specialized type of race was developed: the sprint. Sprint races require a great deal of acceleration from a dead start and, as a result, are often dangerous for horses. They can lead to severe leg injuries and even a fatal heart attack. Injuries from these races can be very costly for the owners of a racehorse.
Despite this, there are many people who enjoy watching races and betting on them. It is estimated that more than a million Americans attend races each year and spend around $5 billion on tickets, food, beverages, and merchandise. However, many people are not aware of the plight of the racehorses and the brutal training methods used by some trainers.
Behind the romanticized facade of thoroughbred horse racing is a world of drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter. Horses are forced to run, often over short distances, with the threat of whips and illegal electric shock devices hanging over them. They are under such intense physical stress that they regularly break down and die, despite modern medical treatment and equipment.
Trainers give their horses drugs to improve their performance and mask pain. This is a serious problem in the industry. Trainers who refuse to do so risk losing their licenses. Random drug testing is in place, but the people who develop drugs are one step ahead of officials. As a result, many horses are injured and sold without the knowledge of their new owners, who then force them to compete. This often leads to a broken down, lame horse that ends up at auction or in the slaughter pipeline.
The deaths of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit, two champion horses who died under the exorbitant physical stress of a race, were a wake-up call to the industry that it is time for reform. It is no longer a question of whether or not horse racing is morally right, but how the industry will survive in a culture that increasingly regards animals as having certain fundamental rights. If the industry is to survive, it must move beyond scapegoating PETA and its supporters. *