Horse races are contested over a variety of distances, but in general they have one essential feature: the horse that crosses the finish line first is declared the winner. Over the centuries, horse racing has evolved from a primitive contest of speed and stamina to an elaborate spectacle that involves large fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and immense sums of money.
The sport’s evolution is driven by demand, fueled by the enormous sums of money paid to winners and to owners of horses that finish in the top three or four places. A growing awareness of horse cruelty – including abusive training practices, drug use, breakdowns, and the transport of American horses to foreign slaughterhouses – is fueling calls for reform and may threaten the future of horse racing.
While speed is the most important factor in winning a race, horsemen must also have the courage to stand up for what they believe is right for the horse, even when it threatens their financial security. Some owners and trainers are steadfast in their opposition to animal cruelty, but the majority of people involved in the industry remain far too silent. This silence is fueling a downward spiral of shrinking fan bases, dwindling revenue, and declining race days.
There are a few categories of racehorse owners and trainers. The first are a small, feral minority that will stop at nothing to cheat their way to victory. They are the most dangerous to racing. The second category are the “good” people who do their best to treat their horses fairly but are hampered by a system that rewards the wrongdoers and punishes the innocents.
Horses, especially those running on oval tracks, take a tremendous pounding on their lower legs, straining ligaments, tendons, and joints. In an effort to lessen the impact, Mongolian Groom was adorned with a heavy blue hood and a shadow roll across his nose. Shadows are particularly troublesome for horses, who can startle at them and kick themselves. Getting a good start is important in a horse race, but it’s equally important to stay within the pack because horses are prey animals that instinctively prefer safety. A good starter in the middle of the pack will avoid a miserable day in the dirt, dodging kicks from bigger horses while trying not to get trampled. It takes a lot of skill to win a trifecta bet, which is when you pick the top three finishers in the correct order. It’s an incredibly difficult bet to place because you need to choose the top three, but also avoid selecting any of the other nine runners in the race. In addition, a horse must finish in the top three to receive any prize money at all. This is why it’s sometimes necessary to place a bet on a long-shot.