Horse race is one of the oldest sports in the world. It has evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses to a modern spectacle that features huge fields of runners and sophisticated monitoring equipment. Its basic concept, however, has not changed over the centuries. The horse that crosses the finish line first is the winner.
Despite its glamour and popularity, horse racing is a cruel sport that causes immense suffering to the animals involved. Activists say that while spectators wear fancy outfits and sip mint juleps, the horses themselves are suffering from drugs and physical abuse. Horses used for racing are often drugged and whipped, pushed to their limits, and suffer from gruesome breakdowns. Some are even slaughtered for being too old, unfit, or sick.
In addition, horses are forced to sprint – often for very long distances – at speeds that cause injuries such as internal hemorrhaging and pulmonary congestion. Those that are not killed or broken down by the grueling work are usually sent to slaughterhouses in Canada or Mexico. The animal rights organization PETA estimates that ten thousand American thoroughbreds are slaughtered every year. In addition to being abused, they are crowded into confined stalls and forced to compete with other horses whose owners and trainers use whips and illegal electric-shock devices to get them to run fast.
A horse race is a competitive running of a racetrack by Thoroughbred horses, generally over a distance of one to three miles. In the early years of the sport, races were often match races between two or three horses, with the owners providing the purse and accepting bets as a form of payment. An owner who withdrew from a race forfeited half the purse, then later the whole prize, and wagers were recorded by disinterested third parties known as keepers of the match book.
From the start, the horses broke cleanly, and War of Will quickly established a lead on the dirt course, with Mongolian Groom and McKinzie close behind. The track was heavy and had little spring to it, which made the horses’ back legs work harder to keep up. This was called a tough trip and was not ideal for horses who had a tendency to tire easily, like those with the “Look of Eagles.”
But Santa Anita’s management and Breeders’ Cup officials insisted that everything was in hand, that they had flooded the area with veterinarians and expensive imaging equipment and were ensuring that the horses’ preexisting conditions would not be exacerbated by the demands of the event. But the horse losses continued to mount. In the months that followed, more than a dozen horses died at the track from injury or sickness. Many of the deaths were blamed on the track surface: The lack of spring in the ground made it difficult for a horse’s leg to act like a big spring when the flexor tendon stretches and then rebounds, allowing a horse to run fast.