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Restructuring the Horse Racing Industry

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Horse racing is the sport in which horses, ridden by jockeys or pulled by sulkies and their drivers, compete to win a race. The winning horse receives a prize, usually money. A jockey’s skill in steering a horse, managing its speed and endurance, and avoiding accidents is the key to success. The sport is popular in many countries, particularly those with warm climates.

Founded in the 1600s, horse races became more sophisticated by the mid-1800s. The number of races and purses increased, and rules for eligibility were developed based on age, sex, birthplace and previous performance. Some races, called stakes, are designed to recognize the finest horses in the industry. Other races are open to all entrants, but the racing secretary or track handicapper assigns weights aimed at leveling the playing field for competing horses.

While these efforts have produced some improvements, racing remains a dangerous and deadly sport. Countless horses have died in racetrack accidents and while the death rate has dropped, it’s far too high. Despite this, Congress decided it wasn’t willing to see animals die to entertain racing enthusiasts, and the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) began enforcing new standards in 2022. The results have been encouraging, with a lower rate of injury per 1,000 starts than ever before.

But HISA’s efforts are not enough to save the horse racing industry. Many Americans have turned away from gambling on horses, especially after a series of scandals related to animal cruelty and safety issues. The growing awareness of the dark side of the sport has fueled this trend. Many new, would-be racing fans are turned off by the sport’s long history of abusive training practices, drug use and exploitation of younger running horses.

To make a real difference, industry leaders must decide if they really care about the welfare of the horses they claim as their athletes. If they do, they will take a radical approach to restructure the sport from top to bottom, with a focus on the health and welfare of horses. This will require complicated, expensive and untraditional steps like implementing caps on the number of times that horses can run and integrating a more natural and equine friendly lifestyle for racehorses. It will also mean a willingness to put aside the profits generated by the betting public and from industry folks in order to prioritize the welfare of the horses. Only then can a truly healthy, sustainable future for horse racing be assured.

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