Whether you’re a seasoned gambler or a casual fan, horse racing is one of the world’s most thrilling and iconic sports. It has been practiced by civilizations since ancient times and has played a vital role in mythology, as well. The contest between the steeds of Odin and Hrungnir in Norse legend is just one example. During the race, participants mount a steed and race against each other to finish the race in first place. The winner is determined by a photo finish, where a photograph of the horses’ final strides are examined to determine which one crossed the line first.
The sport has a notorious reputation for corruption and doping, with drug testing being lax at best and often blatantly ignored. The crooks in the industry are a small, feral minority who can stain the integrity of the sport for everyone else. But there’s a large group in the middle — not quite innocent, but neither deceived nor hopeless, either — who know things are far more crooked than they should be, and don’t do all they could to right them.
One of the problems is that many injuries are not reported to racing officials, even when they’re severe. That can leave horses to continue competing with lingering injuries that cause them pain and ultimately lead to their death, or they are sold to new owners who don’t disclose the horses’ medical histories. The latter often send the injured animals to auction, where they end up in the slaughter pipeline.
In the years after Santa Anita, there were high-profile attempts to reform the industry in order to keep it clean and safe for the horses. But those efforts have been thwarted by court challenges that seem designed to keep the status quo intact. Until serious antidoping rules come into place, there will be more horse deaths at the track and in the breeding barns.
It’s easy for the sport’s legions of apologists to dodge, deflect and blame the messenger — in this case, The Times and PETA — but that would be a mistake. Virtually no one outside the racing world cares how PETA got its video of alleged abuse, just as they don’t care how other activists get their undercover footage. They just care about the content. And the content here is very, very disturbing. It’s time to act.