What is a Horse Race?

horse race

A horse race is a contest in which humans perched on horses’ backs compel them to run a set distance at breakneck speed. It’s a spectacle that defies self-preservation and, because it takes place in close quarters, often results in injuries. When injured, horses understandably want to stop and rest. Instead, they are urged to keep going by humans pounding their heads with a whip.

The sport of horse racing has a long history. The first races were regulated by a set of rules that dictated the age, sex, and birthplace of horses; and the qualifications of riders. Later, as demand for horse races increased, standardized events were created in which handicaps (adjusted odds) were established based on previous performance and the ages of horses. The purpose of a handicap race is to render all horses as equally matched as possible.

Some horse races are sprints, while others are long-distance competitions that test the equine athletes’ stamina and acceleration. The longest endurance race in the world is the 621-mile Mongolian Derby, which follows Genghis Khan’s horse messenger route and is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s toughest horse race.

A prestigious and highly publicized controversy involving trainers Steve Asmussen and Scott Blasi recently rocked the American thoroughbred horse racing industry. Asmussen and Blasi are accused of using banned substances to help horses win races, which violates the governing body’s rules and puts the health and safety of the animals at risk. The allegations are backed up by a video that has been released publicly by animal rights group PETA.

The New York Times article “PETA Accuses Two Trainers of Cruelty” was widely read and debated in the horse racing world. The story and the video have sparked a wide range of reactions, including outrage, resentment, and hostility towards PETA from racing insiders. However, it’s a mistake to conflate hostility toward PETA with dismissal of the work it does. Virtually no one outside of the horse racing world cares how PETA gets its undercover videos; they care only about what’s in them.

The fact is that a lot of people in the horse racing industry are crooks who dangerously drug their horses or allow it to be done by their agents. Many more are dupes who labor under the fantasy that horse racing is broadly fair and honest. And then there’s the vast middle, neither naive nor crooks but honorable souls who know that the industry is more crooked than it ought to be and don’t do enough to fix it.