The Problem With Horse Race Betting

The sport of horse racing has evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses into a spectacle that features massive fields of runners and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, but the fundamental idea remains the same: The horse that crosses the finish line first wins. Horse race betting has long been a major part of the sport. Bettors wager money on the horses they believe will finish in first, second, or third place. There are also accumulator bets that pay out if multiple horses win.

The last few years have brought a new urgency to the question of how a sport that relies on the for-profit exploitation of animals can be consistent with modern values and a society that increasingly recognizes animals as entitled to certain basic rights, including survival in the for-profit enterprise that created them. The 2008 deaths of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit, both in the midst of exorbitant physical stress in the Kentucky Derby, sparked a national reckoning about the ethics and integrity of American racing.

Since then, improved medical treatment and technological advances have made a significant difference in the lives of racehorses both on and off the track. But a growing body of research suggests that the underlying problem persists: Horses are routinely injured or killed during races and in training, and the number of catastrophic injuries is far higher than the industry can admit.

To understand why this is still a major issue for racing, one has to step back and see the sport as it really is. Horses are born with skeletal systems that are ill-prepared to handle the stresses of running on hard surfaces at high speeds. They begin training while their skeletons are still developing and are expected to run at full capacity for up to six or seven hours in the midst of strenuous physical exertion.

As a result, it is not uncommon for young racehorses to suffer catastrophic collapses and breaks during the rigors of a race or in training. This happens far more often than we like to think, and it is no less disturbing when it occurs because of the inexorable pressures of the for-profit business.

It can be very frustrating for a trainer when their carefully constructed plans go awry. This is particularly true if a race does not fill or if a horse’s health requires a change in the schedule. Despite the best laid plans, it can take creative and even out-of-the-box thinking to get a horse into an ideal race. This is the challenge that confronts racehorse trainers at every level of the sport.