Horse racing is a dying sport, one that is no longer capable of attracting large fan bases like today’s major sports do. Despite this, I have been watching the Triple Crown races, those being the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes, for the last few years. Truth be told, the recent horse flick, Secretariat, got me hooked. The movie was very well done, and I could feel the excitement and the adrenaline rush, watching the horses come back from behind down the final stretch, unleashing every ounce of energy left in them. That movie was so good, that I went home, got on YouTube, and started watching videos of the latest Derby, Preakness, and Belmont winners, like Mine That Bird and jockey Calvin Borel‘s huge upset in the Kentucky Derby at 50-1 odds in 2009 and Big Brown’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins in 2008. Watching those horses come back from behind the way they did brought me the same adrenaline rush that I had gotten while I had watched Secretariat. It was fun to watch. Then I noticed something about a horse named Eight Belles dying in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, the same one that Big Brown won, so I decided to click on the video and see what happened. After finishing second behind Big Brown, Eight Belles collapsed, breaking both front ankles. It was put down there on the track, never to race again or live another day. As a huge animal lover, while it was clearly the humane thing to do, it still made me very sad. After watching that video, I shut off the computer and went to do something else.
Well, yesterday, my parents decided to take me and my younger brother to the Meadows, a racetrack and casino about an hour from Pittsburgh. They took us when we were little but I don’t remember very much of the experience. Horses participate in harness racing, sometimes called sulky racing, in which a horse pulls the jockey and a cart he’s sitting on. This is obviously not as entertaining as watching regular horse racing, like the Kentucky Derby, etc., but as I soon learned, it can be still be entertaining. Based off the stat sheet from the horses’ previous races and whether or not we liked how they were moving pre-race, we selected a horse that we thought would show, meaning they would finish in first, second, or third. Each of us got one right, and other times we were better at picking the horse that would finish in the bottom three. Anyway, it was getting late and we had decided we were going to watch two more and then go. We were on race 7, and a horse named Rowdy Bush looked good on the stat sheet to me. He was at 12-1 odds, but had finished 4th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 7th in his last five races. He looked good coming on to the track, so I picked him. Through the first half, Rowdy Bush held the two spot, but around the final turn was overrun. One horse was quickly gaining on the leader, which caught everyone’s attention, including mine, creating a nail-biting finish that thrilled. Then I turned my focus back towards my horse, Rowdy Bush, and saw Rowdy Bush crash head first into the ground, the sulky carriage behind him overturning and the jockey being thrown into the air. Shortly thereafter, Rowdy Bush was put down on the track, which made me once again very sad and we all decided to leave for two reasons: 1) because we were sad and 2) because we thought they would have to cancel the rest of the races for the night. My parents headed for the bathroom before we left and while I was waiting I heard the pre-race horn, announcing the horses for the next race. I quickly ran outside and saw that all the cars and the ambulance that had been surrounding Rowdy Bush on the track were gone, and the horses for the next race were coming out!!! I was quickly taken over by a furious rage. A horse just died and the operators just acted like nothing happened! This was something similar to what the NFL had been in the past, an organization that took athletic machines and put them in a game with heavy consequences and once they were of no more use to the organization, tossed them aside. Horse racing is like that today. As many as three horses a day die in race accidents like the one I witnessed and I can only assume the majority of the race providers probably continue the races regardless of what happens to the participants.
Once again, as a huge animal lover, that infuriates me. When race providers start treating participants as machines, either things need to be changed, like the NFL has changed, or the sport needs to go. So despite my fondness for horse racing, if it comes down to a vote to continue it, I can’t say with full confidence that I would vote for it.