Horse racing is one of the oldest sports in the world and it has evolved into a huge public-entertainment business with enormous prize money. Its basic concept, however, has remained unchanged. Two horses compete in a test of speed and stamina and the horse that finishes first is declared the winner. The sport has become a complex spectacle with large fields of runners and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment but its essential feature remains the same.
The innate physical ability of the horse has hardly changed over the centuries, yet human athletes and racehorses have developed much more impressive speed records in recent decades. This has occurred partly through improvements in nutrition, but a considerable amount of it is likely due to esoteric factors such as improved training methods and the use of specialized ‘going’ surfaces for different races.
As a result, the sport has been losing customers and new would-be fans at an alarming rate. The industry is also struggling with a series of scandals relating to safety and doping. The death of Eight Belles and the catastrophic cardiac episode suffered by Medina Spirit, both in the Kentucky Derby, has sparked a public reckoning of the sport’s ethics and integrity.
In addition, the sport is under pressure from other forms of gambling and is having to compete with online wagering. Its traditional customer base is aging and it is difficult to attract younger people, especially young women, to the track. This is a problem because newcomers are crucial to increasing the sport’s popularity.
The Palio di Siena is a famous horse race in Italy, held twice each summer on July 2 and August 16 in the medieval city of Siena. It is a spectacular event with seventeen Contrade, or city wards, represented by jockeys and their mounts. It is the climax of a week of pageantry and competition, which includes parades, musical performances and other events to celebrate the city’s patron saint.
A horse’s life is very hectic. There are many owners, trainers, veterinarians and other staff that it interacts with so it is very rare for a horse to have a strong bond with any single person. The horse is transported from country to country and even from racetrack to racetrack and is never really able to call any place home. As a result, the number of accidents and breakdowns is high and it is not uncommon for the sport’s horses to suffer from skeletal problems, such as broken legs, which often occur in high-pressure races. These injuries can lead to euthanasia. The aforementioned issues have led PETA to push for reform of the horse racing industry, including its abusive training practices and drug use. It also exposes the plight of countless American racehorses who are trucked to foreign slaughterhouses each year. In fact, thousands of ‘unprofitable’ or unwanted Thoroughbreds are euthanized every year in the United States. This is an appalling figure and PETA continues to campaign for the sport to improve its record in this area.