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Widely considered the sport of kings, horse racing is one of the oldest forms of racing – and one of the earliest sports bets were placed on. In fact, the first recorded horse race started due to a wager between two men.
In 1651, two noblemen had a disagreement over something. With men being men, they decided that the only way to settle the dispute was to race their horses – with the winner becoming the victor and the loser having to concede.
Since this simple race, the sport has exploded into a pastime enjoyed by over 1.4 billion people worldwide. However, with recent events related to the sport, many question whether it still has a future.
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Chiefly behind the uncertainty of the future of the sport is the fragility of horses, as a concerning number died right before major races were scheduled to happen.
The Kentucky Derby, one of the largest races in the season, was wrought with controversy this year when seven horses passed away in the lead-up to the meet. While most of these losses were caused by leg injuries resulting in euthanasia, others passed without any apparent pattern as to the reason.
Across the pond, similar instances have put the spotlight on the future of the sport. One of England’s most significant racing events, the Grand National, was disrupted two days before the race.
In response to the death of two horses slotted to compete in the race, over 100 protestors proclaiming animal welfare stormed the track. Due to the illegality of their actions, they were arrested. However, the death of a third horse during the race again sparked controversy.
The primary argument of welfare groups is that due to the selective breeding processes used when breeding for racing, horses are born more fragile than those born naturally. Because of this, doping of the horses from a young age, and a complete lack of accountability amongst breeders, horses suffer unnecessarily.
While there has yet to be any scientific evidence to support these claims, the industry has taken steps to rectify the situation.
New national safety standards have been introduced to ensure that no animal is unduly forced to race if there is a high likelihood of injury.
Coming into effect on July 1, 2022, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act is specifically designed to protect all horses and minimalize the fatalities caused by racing. The act covers two main sections: safety at the racetrack and medication and anti-doping control.
While the act’s anti-doping and medication control section was suspended almost immediately after implementation, the safety section has been in full force.
The rules include a list of new regulations regarding how horses can be treated and what needs to be done before they can race. Chief amongst these are limits on how many times a jockey can whip a horse and things like requiring a veterinary fitness certificate before a horse is permitted to race.
Welfare groups have already said that the regulations are inadequate and are simply shallow attempts to quieten activists. Their basis for these claims is that there has been no drop in horse fatalities from the year before the act was put into place.
Those defending the sport have responded with proof that updated practices and regulations over the last decade have drastically reduced horse deaths and injuries. They also advocate that the new act will yield results. However, like with any reform, these will take time to show.
While welfare groups offer strong cases against what they claim is the abuse and exploitation of animals, the future of horse racing may be less of a conundrum than it is made out to be.
Aside from the fact that horses are naturally designed to be active, run, and stay on the move – making racing something right up their alley – the sport still has an incredible following. This is true both in the US and in other countries worldwide.
Proof of this was shown on the very weekend that sparked the latest debate over the sport’s future – the Kentucky Derby weekend. While there was an outcry over the loss of life occurring in the stable, the situation at Churchill Downs, the raceway where the race is held, showed how many fans love the sport.
Over 150,000 people turned up over the weekend to watch the races and place wagers on the favorite to win. Reveling in the atmosphere and tension of who would win, the number of fans speaks to the number of people who love the sport. More than this, the revenue generated by the sport speaks volumes about how popular it remains – even amid controversy.
In 2021, wagers on the sport via physical bookies and those found on gambling sites like casinos.com were singularly responsible for generating more than $12.2 billion. Aside from betting revenue, the industry contributes over $50 billion annually to the US economy via a wide range of products and services.
An additional $38 billion is pushed back into the economy through wages and benefits of those working with the horses. The people managing racetracks and working on race days are also included in this amount.
While the safety of racing horses and efforts to minimalize casualties is at the forefront of everybody’s mind – whether friend to the sport or foe – it seems the future of horse racing will be long and illustrious.
There is still an enormous fanbase that supports the sport, and it generates incredible figures of income. All this together means there will always be people who can’t wait for the next big race day.
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