The Backbone of Horse Racing

The death of Eight Belles and the injury of Medina Spirit have woken up the sport to the reality that horses are dying under the exorbitant physical stress of racing and training. Pushed beyond their limits, these animals are subjected to cocktails of legal and illegal drugs designed to mask injuries and artificially enhance performance. Racing officials cannot keep up with the drugs that enter the industry, and their testing capacities are too weak to catch many of them. Horses are also given powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories, blood doping, steroids, growth hormones, and medications intended to treat psychiatric disorders.

The result is a sport rife with fraud and deception, in which moneyed owners, trainers and jockeys cheat to win races while their horses hemorrhage, break down and die under the excruciating pressure of competition. Amid all the crookedness, however, there are those in the industry who are honorable. They know the business is more crooked than it ought to be but work within its framework anyway. These people, who are not naive but neither dopes nor crooks, are the backbone of the sport and its true fans.

These loyal, mostly older patrons are essential to the sport because they make up a good portion of the betting public. They are also the reason that horse races still take place in America, even though new, would-be fans are turning away from it as they are disgusted by the abuse scandals and lack of an adequately funded industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution for horses leaving the track.

Betting on horse races involves placing a wager on which horse will finish in first, second or third. The payouts for each are based on the total amount staked and the number of runners in the race. Some bettors also place accumulator bets where they have multiple bets on the same event.

In the beginning, racing was a private affair, and races were organized by townships and counties. Eventually, more and more races became open to the general public, and eligibility rules were developed based on age, sex, birthplace, previous performance, and ownership qualifications.

The most important rule of all is the “one-year old rule.” The horse must be a year old before he or she can compete in a race, and this is to ensure that he has developed enough strength and coordination to survive the physical demands of racing. A horse that is too young will be injured during the racing season.

In the 19th century, Thoroughbred breeding and racing evolved into a major industry. Its biggest moneymakers were the wealthy landowners who bred and raced their prized animals for personal profit, as well as for social status and prestige. The American breeders and trainers learned to tinker with the genetics of their stock in order to improve its racing ability and increase its value as a stud. As a result, the American version of the Thoroughbred developed its own unique style of racing that differs from its British counterpart in that its hallmark was stamina rather than speed.

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