The Effects of a Horse Race

A horse race is an event in which horses are ridden by jockeys and pulled by sulkies in a contest of speed and endurance. It is one of the oldest sports, and its basic concept has undergone little change over the centuries. Whether the competition is a primitive contest between two horses or an enormous spectacle with hundreds of runners and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, the winner is the first horse across the finish line. The sport is part of myth and legend as well; the god Odin had a horse race every day to determine the fate of mortals, and the horse-racing industry claims that horses are “born to run and love to compete.”

But the reality is far more complex than the industry’s PR. For starters, breeding 1,000-pound thoroughbreds for massive torsos, spindly legs and fragile ankles is a recipe for breakdowns. Moreover, the typical horse does not reach full maturity — that is, when the growth plates in its spine and neck fuse — until it is around 6, but racing horses are thrust into intensive training at 18 months and, in some cases, raced as young as 2. That means they haven’t had a chance to develop their physical limits.

Horses are not made to withstand such extremes, and the pounding they receive during races is unnatural. In fact, most horses suffer from the effects of racing even when they are not injured. The most important factor in preventing horse injuries is to limit the number of miles they race and to provide proper rest between races. Nonetheless, many horses are raced past their limits for the sake of profits and prestige, while some races are rigged to attract gamblers.

The Breeders’ Cup race at Santa Anita, on November 4, 2022, started at a slow pace and soon became a dead heat. War of Will, a chestnut colt and the previous year’s Preakness champion, had taken the lead early on, but on the clubhouse turn it was apparent that he was tiring. A pair of smaller-framed bays, Mongolian Groom and McKinzie, were a half length behind him.

By the time they reached the stretch, both horses had slowed down and were struggling. They were drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. They were also thirsty. The runners were given a shot of Lasix, a diuretic noted on the race program with a boldface “L.” The drug is given to prevent pulmonary bleeding, which hard running often causes.

When journalists cover elections as a competitive game, framing them as a horse race instead of as a public service, voters, candidates and the news industry itself suffer, research shows. Our updated roundup of recent studies looks at the consequences of this approach, which has been used in many countries worldwide for decades.