Horse racing is a form of flat races in which horses compete over distances ranging from a few hundred yards to two miles or more. There are two basic types of flat race: sprints, where the horses must demonstrate fast acceleration, and long-distance races, where endurance is a key factor. During a race, horses carry weights that they must contend with while they are running. The weights that horses must carry are determined by their age and sex, as well as their past performance. The younger a horse is, the less weight it must carry.
The death of Eight Belles and the subsequent shaming of Medina Spirit have prompted some much-needed improvement in racetrack safety, but for horse racing to truly become a sport that prioritizes animal welfare it will need a major ideological reckoning at both the macro business and industry levels and within the minds of men and women who work in the game. This would mean a complete restructuring of the industry from breeding to aftercare that puts horses at the forefront, along with strict caps on how many races a horse can run and its years in service.
In a horse race, horses are whipped to a breakneck speed that can result in serious injuries like broken limbs and cardiac episodes. A significant number of those who run will eventually hemorrhage from their lungs, a condition known as exercise-induced pulmonary bleeding. In addition, they are often subjected to cocktails of legal and illegal drugs to mask injuries, improve their performance, and artificially boost their energy.
A few weeks before the Derby, when trainer Nick Alexander was preparing his horse Mongolian Groom for a race at Santa Anita, the jockey walked the horse around the walking ring to assess its condition. He looked at the horse’s coat, which was bright and rippling with sweat. Then he glanced at the horse’s eyes to see if it was alert and ready for action.
The horse race was the first time in history that a major thoroughbred race has been run with an all-female crew of trainers and jockeys. The horses were also all females. In a move that shocked even diehard fans, the all-female team beat a predominantly male team to win the Kentucky Derby.