The Cruel World of Horse Racing

Horse racing is one of the oldest sports, but it has undergone little change over the centuries. It evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses to the enormous spectacle it is today, but its essential feature has remained the same: The first horse across the finish line is the winner. Behind the romanticized facade of horse racing lies a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter. The horses are forced to sprint, whipped with cruel, electric-shocking devices that can cause fatal cardiovascular collapse and even pulmonary hemorrhage. In the wild, if a horse is injured, it will stop to rest and heal; at the racetrack, however, many are compelled by humans perched on their backs to continue running, often in close quarters, despite the pain.

In an ideal world, the best horse would win every race and the sport of horse racing would be a clean and ethical enterprise. But the truth is, horse racing is corrupt and rigged from top to bottom. The industry is dominated by unscrupulous owners and trainers who profit from the misery of the horses. And the public isn’t ignorant of these facts. Increasingly, people are recognizing the cruel reality of horse racing and demanding reforms.

The earliest recorded horse races were chariot racing and bareback riding contests. Later, mounted horse racing emerged, and the sport became popular in the Roman Empire, with chariot racers jockeying a pair of horses to propel them over the course. After the Civil War, the focus shifted from stamina to speed. The result was a breed of horse developed specifically for the accelerated contest, the Thoroughbred.

Unlike the Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds are long and lanky, but their speed and agility make them well-suited to short races. The first thoroughbred to run a mile in less than 2 minutes was Sir Barton in 1861, and this remarkable feat eventually inspired other racetracks to build mile-long oval courses.

Veteran gamblers know that betting on horse races is not for the faint of heart. There are too many variables to consider, from wind speed to what the horses eat for breakfast. Then there are the inevitable setbacks: Front-runners break a leg. Champions suddenly decide they’re not in the mood to race. And when the dust settles, a majority of players will have lost their money. That’s why the wise play is to place bets only on those horses that you feel have a real chance of winning. The key to success in horse racing is to study the form and follow the sage advice of experts such as Bill Benter, who has spent decades developing computer models to predict the outcome of horse races. His model is based on only 20 inputs, just a fraction of the infinite factors that affect a horse’s performance. Nevertheless, the accuracy of his predictions is staggering: In 2009, his bets won a total of $17 million, and he earned a six-figure income from the sport.