The Horse Race As a Model of Leadership

Horse racing is a sport that involves a competition between horses over distances of up to four miles (6.4 km) on a flat track. It is one of the oldest sports in history and has been practiced in many cultures throughout the world. It is also an important part of mythology, such as the contest between Odin’s steeds and Hrungnir in Norse legend.

Unlike most modern professional sports, where athletes are paid for their performance, horse races are purely voluntary events, and participants receive no compensation other than the thrill of competing. However, horse race betting has become a significant source of revenue for some state governments and private companies. The sport has been legalized in more than 30 states and has a large following in Canada.

In 2014, the New York Times published a three-part series that exposed serious cruelty to thoroughbred horses in America and elsewhere. The articles described reckless breeding and doping practices, compromised veterinarians and trainers, and decades-long resistance to changes that could save lives.

As a result of the Times investigation, some politicians and regulators are now considering reforms to make the sport more humane. But the article, and a subsequent documentary, have given ammunition to critics of the sport who argue that horse racing is too dangerous to continue.

The New York Times has analyzed thousands of pages of confidential documents and covert recordings, as well as exclusive interviews with horse industry insiders and law enforcement officials. The paper has discovered that reckless breeding, doping and training practices, and decades-long resistance to change have placed a multibillion-dollar ecosystem in peril and have put the social acceptability of the sport at risk.

There are essentially three types of people in horse racing. First, there are the crooks, a small, feral minority that engages in blatantly dangerous drugging and mistreating their horses. Then there are the dupes, those who labor under the fantasy that the sport is broadly honest and fair. Finally, there are those in the middle—not naive nor cheaters, but honorable souls who know that the business is more crooked than it ought to be but have yet to give their all to fix it.

Proponents of the horse race model of leadership say that it is an effective way to choose a CEO because it ensures that several strong candidates can compete for the position. This process can also serve to motivate top management and staff by making them realize that they are competing with one another for the most valuable role in the company, and it can create a system of leadership development in which high performers are groomed through a series of critical roles to develop the competencies and seasoning required to lead a major organization. However, critics point out that the horse race can have a negative impact on the organization if it fails to select a candidate quickly and efficiently. Moreover, it can leave other senior-level executives who are not selected feeling unfulfilled and demoralized.