Horse racing is suffering from a negative public perception causing the crowds to dwindle at many tracks and the closure of some. Perhaps it is becoming more and more apparent to spectators that all is not right in the world of racing; horses suffer and die, and jockeys are often injured and not well taken care of. Perhaps it just isn't as sexy as it used to be.
Racetracks are looking for new ways to make money and attract new audiences, especially women. Del Mar promotes itself as one big party with elaborate hats, old-time glamour, drinking, music, and yes, gambling on horses. Marketing the venue rather than the horses seems to be the new strategy.
The first step to reinventing racing, if that is possible, would be to for the industry to acknowledged its core problems, and to describe them fully and accurately. On its present course, racing will continue to lose fans and eventually cease to exist.
"The current state of horse racing in North America is best described as a volatile cocktail fueled by economic greed together with increasingly fragile horses and pervasive drug administration that has transformed this once distinguished “Sport of Kings" into a controversial, much maligned commercial industry rife with abuse and disregard for its athletes."
~ Jane Allin, The Horse Fund, Horse Racing - The Chemical Horse
Words matter. The language used by the industry and racing media to describe an incident where a horse is critically injured or killed is vague, such as, the horse “took a bad step” or ”pulled up lame” or “broke down” and was “vanned off.” When a horse is injured or dies during a race, the spectators may have no idea what has occurred unless it happens right in front of the grandstand. Normally the horse is removed from the track in a van, or a screen is put up around the fallen horse if it is euthanized.
The incident is usually removed from the footage of the race, as seeing a horse snap a leg and try to get up to finish the race is more than most can bear. On Equibase, an online thoroughbred and racing database, the entry for Presidential Air who died on Opening Day at Del Mar 2016, does not mention that the horse died, or how, there are simply no more statistics.
Opening Day, July 16, 2016, at Del Mar just before race 6, the 3-year-old filly Presidential Air (#9) is being saddled up; the jockey in green is Brandon Boulanger. A few minutes later Presidential Air is down on the track with a broken leg, and soon after, euthanized. Equibase states that she “broke down and was vanned off.” Alive and then dead — just like that.
Photo (below): San Diego Union-Tribune, Charlie Neuman, 2017