In 2016, a record number of 27 horses died racing or
training to race at the Del Mar Racetrack. So rapidly
did the deaths pile up that the media took notice and
the public began to question what was going wrong.
Why were so many horses dying?
Was it always this way?
It's time to take a close look at racing;
to see it through another's eyes.
A Romantic View
The Del Mar Racetrack opened in 1937; close to Hollywood and near the beach, it was the place to see and be seen.
Today racing is more an industry than a sport, with the glamour fading, and the crowds thinning. Yet the belief that a day at the races is harmless, good fun and that the horses are pampered and well taken care of persists. With our blinders firmly in place, we may not want to see the bigger picture.
The number of thoroughbred foals born every year in the United States, a world leader in the (over-) production of horses, fluctuates with the economy, but currently is 20,000 - 25,000. Of the smaller proportion who become racehorses, 1,000 - 2,000 will die training, racing, or due to race-related injuries or illness annually.
There are many reasons for these injuries and deaths — horses running far too young, the overuse of legal drugs to mask pain, the use of illegal drugs to enhance performance, over-racing, temporarily numbing an injured limb so a horse feels no pain and runs injured, bad track surfaces, and decades of inbreeding.
The horse racing industry argues that the number of horses dying is low considering the number of horses racing, but this begs the question, how many is too many? Horses are being injured and killed on tracks all around the country, sometimes more at one track than another in one year, sometimes fewer, but it is never-ending.
In addition to the horses who are killed racing or training, or of other race-related illnesses, there is the much higher number of thoroughbreds that are sent to slaughter for food.
A Horse's Life
Horses are social, herd animals but thoroughbreds are often kept in stalls in “shedrows” for up to 23 hours per day. Though they may see horses passing by they are effectively isolated. When confined for long periods of time with insufficient companionship, in an environment that prevents instinctive herd behavior and grazing, they suffer both mentally and physically.
Follow The Money
Horse racing is a poorly regulated multi-billion dollar global industry were racehorses are bred to be used and discarded because there is always a new crop of foals to take their place.
As long as there is so much money to be made in breeding, racing and slaughtering horses for meat, the brutally will continue.
If more than 10,000 thoroughbreds dying every year is the reality of this sport, then what is a $2 bet really costing?
It is a pivotal moment in the history of horse racing. What once was the most popular sport in America now struggles to maintain an audience. Some say for racing to survive it must reinvent itself from the ground up, while others contend there is no hope of that happening and racing is beyond reform. Ultimately, it is the fans who will decide whether it is racing or compassion that is "cool as ever."