Horse racing is one of the oldest and most famous sports in the world. It has evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina to a spectacle that involves huge fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and enormous sums of money, but the basic concept has barely changed: the first horse to cross the finish line is the winner.
Before the race begins, bettors walk around the ring and look at the horses’ coats. If they’re bright, rippling with just the right amount of sweat and muscled excitement, the horse is believed to be ready to run. When the starter releases the gate, War of Will took an early lead and hugged the inside rail, with McKinzie, a small-framed bay, a half length behind him.
When the horses hit the backstretch, they started to move with an almost hypnotic smoothness. As the pace sped up around the clubhouse turn, it became clear that War of Will was getting tired and that Mongolian Groom was picking up steam. As they approached the finish line, the three horses were neck and neck, a photo finish.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard that horse racing is rife with corruption. Some trainers dangerously drug their horses, and the sport is dominated by moneymen who have long tolerated cheating to preserve their fortunes. There are also a large number of dupes who labor under the fantasy that horse racing is generally honest and fair. And then there are the honorable masses in the middle–not naive, not crooks but nonetheless people who know that the industry is more crooked than it ought to be and do little to change it.
At its best, horse racing is a magnificent spectacle. Its sweeping landscapes, the majesty of its grandstands, the excitement of the race itself can draw thousands of people to the track. But in reality, horse racing is a grueling business that wreaks havoc on the health and welfare of the horses who compete.
In fact, one study found that every 22 races in America, a horse suffers an injury severe enough to prevent it from finishing. In addition, horses are often forced to race before their skeletal systems are fully developed. This can result in painful breakdowns and a number of other injuries. One estimate is that three thoroughbreds die every day in North America due to catastrophic injuries suffered during racing.
In order to ensure that the sport is played fairly, the national governing body has set forth a set of rules. While different countries may have slightly varying rules, the vast majority of them are very similar. In addition to a set of rules, each country has a panel of stewards and patrol judges who examine the finish and review film of the finish to determine if any rule was violated. The stewards also have the authority to disqualify any horse they feel is unfit to compete. This is a very important step in ensuring that the sport remains fair to all involved, including the horses.