Horse racing has evolved over centuries from a primitive contest of speed and stamina to a sport that draws billions in wagers each year. But its basic concept remains unchanged: The horse that crosses the finish line first wins. In the modern era, horse races are complex affairs with large fields of runners, electronic monitoring equipment and enormous prize money. They are dangerous, too, with horses sustaining head trauma and broken bones. Many die from cardiovascular collapse and from a hemorrhage in the lungs. Others are beaten or kicked. In the United States, a national organization oversees safety and medication policies. But a series of scandals in recent years have eroded public confidence in the sport.
Nevertheless, there are many who remain loyal to the sport and support its integrity. A small group, the crooks and cheaters, has become a feral minority that threatens to stain the sport for everyone else. A second group, the good people who see wrong but do not give their all to right it, must also be shaken from its complacency if horse racing is to survive and thrive.
There are those who believe that the sport must change radically in order to attract new players and restore its credibility. Others argue that horses are born to run, love to compete and should be allowed to do so in a safe environment. A third group, the silent majority, is frustrated by the lack of reform and believes that even if the sport must be changed, it is still worth supporting.
In this election cycle, the horse race has felt less like a true horse race. Rather, interest in the race has been focused on the swing states that have a big impact on the outcome of the election. As a result, many quick polls have been conducted in those states, and some have found the Democratic candidate leading.
The horse race can be a hazardous affair for horses, who are forced to sprint at breakneck speeds. The breeders of racehorses produce animals with massive torsos and spindly legs, and they are often pushed into intensive training at around age 2, when they are the rough equivalent of first graders. The high-speed runs place enormous stress on the horses, and many develop problems such as fractured leg bones and cracked hooves.
To avoid injury, most horses are drugged with cocktails of legal and illegal substances that mask pain and enhance performance. Horses that are pushed beyond their limits will often bleed from their lungs, a condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. This can be fatal, and many stewards have had to declare dead heats for races that were so close that a steward’s examination of a photograph of the finish could not determine who won.