A horse race is a sport that pits horses against each other in a contest of speed and endurance. While it has evolved from a primitive contest to one that involves large fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment and immense sums of money, the basic concept remains the same: The horse that finishes first wins. While many critics argue that the sport is inhumane, others maintain that it has evolved from a diversion to a massive public-entertainment business and that its popularity continues to grow.
In the early days of horse racing, bets were private, but in the 19th century the sport moved to a pari-mutuel system whereby people staked money on horses finishing in first, second or third place. The money won by those who backed the winner was pooled and divided among all bettors, minus a fee for the track management. This model of betting helped fuel the growth of racing, which had already expanded beyond a diversion to a huge business.
The success of the pari-mutuel led to the development of a number of new types of bets, including the “part wheel,” which uses a key horse or horses in different exotic wagering combinations to maximize your winnings. A part wheel pays out the highest amount possible for a particular combination of bets, and is the most popular form of betting in horse races. The payoffs for ‘win’ bets are higher than for ‘place’ or’show’ bets, because it is harder to select a horse that will finish first, second or third place.
Regardless of how much people love the sport, the fact that horse racing is dangerous for its competitors will never be in dispute. Despite efforts to improve the safety of horses, they are exposed to exorbitant amounts of physical stress and often suffer injuries as a result of this. In addition, horses have a natural instinct for self-preservation and, in contrast to humans, will not always try to keep going when they are injured.
Those who witness the deaths of Eight Belles, Medina Spirit and thousands of other racehorses who died while trying to win a prize or earn a living should feel a deep pang of sadness and shame. To truly improve the lives of horses in this industry, a major ideological reckoning must take place at both the macro business and individual horse owner levels, from breeding to racing to aftercare and integrating a more natural, equine-friendly lifestyle into training. This may require some complicated, expensive and untraditional steps, but it is what the horses deserve. The future of the sport depends on it.