Horse race is a sport in which horses are competitively ridden and driven by jockeys over a fixed course to score a profit for the wagering public. The sport has roots in Ancient Greece, Rome, Babylon, Syria, Arabia, and Egypt, and is a popular entertainment at many events including fairs, festivals, and sporting tournaments. It is also a central part of mythology and legend.
In North America, organized racing dates to the British occupation of New Amsterdam (now New York City) in 1664, when Col. Richard Nicolls laid out a 2-mile (3.2-km) course and offered a silver cup to the best horse in spring and fall races. In Britain, a system of weights and penalties for different age groups established in the early 1700s made betting more predictable.
When the racing industry grew global, it established three elite races that are now known as the Triple Crown series: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. These are widely considered to be the world’s most prestigious thoroughbred races. A horse that wins all three races is referred to as the American champion.
By the end of the nineteenth century, a number of changes in the racing industry had reduced its integrity and the likelihood that any race would be won fairly. The use of powerful painkillers and other medications designed for humans bled over into race preparation, as did growth hormones and blood doping. Regulatory authorities lacked the testing capacity to catch these alterations, and punishments were often weak.
As a result of these and other factors, the sport became infested with dishonesty. Some racers cheated to win, while others did so for other reasons such as financial gain, personal prestige, or a desire to show off their breeding prowess.
A major source of corruption is the use of illegal drugs, particularly anabolic steroids, to enhance the physical performance of a horse. The steroids increase the production of muscle protein by mimicking the action of natural steroid hormones in the body. In addition, the steroids can increase the energy level of a horse by boosting its metabolism and by reducing fatigue.
The first category, the cheaters, is a small but feral minority that still stain the reputation of the sport for everyone else. The second group, the innocents, is a sizable majority that must grow more vocal if racing is to survive and thrive. If you can watch a young, healthy horse die catastrophically in a race or in training and move on with barely a pang of remorse, you are harming the sport for those who will follow it into its future. Let the lessons of Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keepthename, Creative Plan, and Laoban not be lost.