The Darker Side of Horse Racing

Horse racing is one of the world’s oldest and most popular sports, a sport that involves running a horse around a track to win a wager. The game has developed over thousands of years and can be traced back to chariot races in ancient Greece in 700 to 40 B.C.E. The sport was later adopted by the Romans, and then spread throughout Europe.

But behind the romanticized facade of horse racing lies a darker side-a world of injury, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. In recent years growing awareness of industry cruelty has driven significant improvements in training practices and pushed the industry to make substantial investments in better care for horses. Despite these gains, the industry is still hemorrhaging fans, revenue and race days. And more importantly, it is hemorrhaging the lives of countless abused and broken down American racehorses who are sent to foreign slaughterhouses and die unnecessarily.

A slew of recent investigations have documented a pattern of cruelty in racing, including: overbreeding and the resulting chronic health problems (including colic); abusive training practices for young horses; drug use; gruesome breakdowns; and the deaths of countless racehorses at slaughterhouses. In addition to these equine tragedies, the industry is struggling with a growing public perception of horse racing as cruel and unethical.

During a race, horses are forced to sprint-often under the threat of whips and illegal electric shock devices-at speeds so fast that they often sustain injuries and even hemorrhage from their lungs. To compensate for these inevitable maladies, most racing horses are subjected to cocktail-like doses of legal and illegal drugs that mask their injuries and enhance their performance.

To prevent pulmonary bleeding, all racehorses receive a shot of Lasix, a diuretic that causes them to expel epic amounts of urine in the process. Lasix is a common practice in horse racing because it is an inexpensive, effective way to mask the blood loss that hard running causes in most horses.

Racehorses are also injected with a variety of other medications to boost their speed, endurance and stamina. Some of these include erythropoietin, an anabolic steroid that increases protein production in the muscles, and dextrose, which acts as a glucose stimulant to boost energy.

The condition book is a list of all races scheduled at a racetrack for a particular time period, typically a few weeks or a month. It is essential for trainers to have this information in advance because it determines the training regimen that will be used for a specific group of horses. Because races sometimes do not fill, you will also see substitution races in the condition book that can be used in their place if enough entries are received.