Race Horse and Horseracing
Race Horses on the Racetrack
Two years ago, in 2008, the world of horse racing got a huge shake when the three-year-old filly Eight Belles was put down right on the track after she placed second to Big Brown in the 134 Kentucky Derby. According to the examinations done to her body after she was euthanized, this record-breaking champion race horse suffered from numerous injuries, including multiple fractures, lacerations on her skin, congested lungs and internal head injuries.
Eight Belles is just one of the growing number of casualties of the thoroughbred racetrack. According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), around 12,000 race horses, though not necessarily thoroughbreds, are euthanized or put to slaughter after sustaining serious injuries or after being declared unfit to run the racetrack every year.
Although the figure quoted by PETA is indeed huge, the death of one beautiful thoroughbred filly right on the racetrack should be enough for horseracing fans to sit up and pay attention to what is going on with these race horses beyond the racetrack. This is especially since Eight Belles was not the first horse to die the way she did.
Controversy Clouds Horseracing
After the death of Eight Belles, the sport of horseracing received criticism upon criticism from industry observers and devoted fans alike. The champion filly's tragic end fueled demands to examine the practices of the sport and called for a review of safety regulations. Many animal rights extremists have gone so far as to compare horseracing to bullfighting, claiming that race horses are forced to run to their death.
It cannot be denied that there are indeed issues that must be addressed concerning the welfare and safety of race horses. Chief among these issues is the administration of drugs on race horses on the day of the race. Soon after the demise of Eight Belles, suspicions of steroid use were cast on Big Brown, the race horse that edged Eight Belles to win the 134 Kentucky Derby. The use of steroids was eventually banned after Big Brown raced without steroids and performed poorly as a result.
But it is not just steroid usage that is the problem in this case. Many race horses were given painkillers and other medication so that they will still be able to run on race day despite being too sick or injured to do so. Concrete action has yet to be done regarding this.
Another matter that critics of horseracing called attention to is the possibility of too much inbreeding among race horses. It was pointed out that all the contenders in the 134 Kentucky Derby, including Eight Belles and Big Brown, were sixth-generation descendants of Native Dancer, one of the greatest thoroughbred race horses of the 20th century. The possibility of inbreeding raises concerns that it may have weakened the genetic strain of many horseracing thoroughbreds of our time.
The Need for Reform
It is widely recognized that a widespread reform is necessary if horseracing is to continue as a respected sport in the United States. Many parties have expressed the sport's need to have a commissioner or a central body to whom all race horse owners and breeders will be responsible. Many have also voiced out the need for tighter regulations governing horseracing.
No one doubts that what happened to Eight Belles was a tragedy. The sad fact is that Eight Belles was not alone in her plight. There needs to be a better way for us to treat race horses in a more humane way, and this is definitely possible without even curtailing our enjoyment of horseracing.