Horses are the most majestic of creatures, and they have graced us with their presence for millennia. In the earliest days of civilization, people began to train them to carry loads and pull chariots, but the sport of horse racing really started when humans climbed on top of them and rode them as competition. This sport grew into a sport of skill, speed and majesty when humans began placing wagers against each other. This wagering system morphed into the pari-mutuel, which is now the world’s most popular form of betting in horse races.
In the early days, race bets were private bets accepted by individual individuals. Later, wagering was expanded to pari-mutuel pools in which the bettors share a pool of money minus a management fee for horses finishing first through third. This is the modern system of betting, and it has become a major revenue source for the industry.
As horse racing continues to evolve in a modern culture and justice system that more and more recognizes animals as sentient beings who are entitled to certain fundamental rights, it is vital that the industry address some of its own practices and protocols. This includes instituting an industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution for all thoroughbreds once they leave the track. Otherwise, they will continue to hemorrhage into the slaughter pipeline where they are bled of their life savings and forced to fend for themselves in a cruel and unforgiving system of exploitation.
A few decades ago, when I asked Mike Smith — Big Money Mike to many of his fans — what had changed in his time as a jockey, he said that ownership had radically shifted. Instead of one big owner, it was now common to find a group of investors divvying up “microshares” in a horse for a hundred dollars a year. This democratization of the sport had made it more profitable, but also created a whole new breed of neophyte racehorse owners who were ill-equipped to care for or train their horses.
Before a race begins, the horses enter the walking ring and are carefully examined by bettors. If the horses’ coats look bright and rippling with just enough sweat, they are considered ready to run. As the race commences, bettors cheer and watch with hypnotic fascination as the horses thunder down the stretch toward the finish line. If two or more horses cross the finish line at the same time, a photo finish is declared and stewards examine a snapshot of the finish to determine who won.
The racetrack is a magical place, full of sounds and smells that are a feast for the senses. The horses’ massive, hypnotic strides move through the dusty dirt with a sort of swooping elegance that makes for a spectacle even when it is raining. A few minutes into the race, however, and you can see that some of the horses are fading fast. As the pack nears the clubhouse turn, War of Will takes the lead from Mongolian Groom and McKinzie, a small-framed bay.