The Hell-itorial: Horse Racing

Welcome to TSB's new feature, The Hell-itorial. In this space, once a week, Spencer Hall will defend otherwise indefensible things. These posts may upset your delicate sensibilities, so try to remain calm. Enjoy. ↵

↵ Proposed: Horse racing is amoral business. That’s fine. Enjoying it harms no one. More money = healthier horses. You have other, bigger things to worry about. ↵

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↵Boxers have a rough post-boxing life, for the most part. Brain damage, pre-Parkinson’s symptoms due to head trauma, financial chaos, and the occasional squalid fight against a guy fresh from jail in front of a desolate Indian reservation crowd: And this is what happens to the good fighters. ↵

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↵As bad as it may be, boxers will never finish their careers as pet food. Ferdinand, the 1986 Derby winner, sold to Japanese breeders, wound up being slaughtered to feed Japan’s army of tiny adorable dogs in the form of dog food, an irony of animal being fed to animal that illustrates the core of our defense of horse racing: Horse racing is a running commodity market that is sold as high sporting drama to you, the willing viewer. ↵

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↵Any and all sentiment is your fault and yours alone. Horse racing is cash on the hoof, a sport of the insanely wealthy. No sports owner -- not even George Shinn -- is less sympathetic than the winner of a Triple Crown horse. Televised reaction shots at Triple Crown races are satire in the making: Oh, god! Did we win! Honey! Wife number three, the young one! Get my manservant to fetch me some hundreds to cry into, and make it quick! I haven’t cried this much since the Reagan tax reforms of 1982! BWAAAAAAA!!! ↵

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↵ ↵These people race horses as wealth on the hoof, commodities, and move them with more cash than you would probably feel comfortable even thinking about spending on a “pet.” This is true for them, as well, because horses are not pets for most people: they are investments, and are traded as such. If they were pets, Big Brown would have missed out on his $50 million stallion rights for a bucolic retirement full of sugar cubes and extra carrots provided by his owners. ↵

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↵Instead, Big Brown will get your dream job: expensive gigolo. He will likely mate with over 100 mares a year for over $100,000 a pop to make more $50 million dollar horses. International Equine Acquisitions Holdings is the name of the company who sold him into this, and at no point will the horse have any say because, like a couch, a car, or the occasional NBA referee, he may be bought or sold on the open market. ↵

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↵Horse racing thrives not because people love watching the filthy rich and their trophy wives racing animals for their amusement, but because people can bet on it, a risk-taking behavior people find compelling for reasons too complex to explain here properly. This can and should continue because people may, within ethical limits, continue to invest their money in legal diversions as they see fit. ↵

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↵Horses can’t object to this because they have no rights. As romantic and doomed as it seemed, the public struggle of Barbaro happened for financial reasons, not sentiment. So much effort went into Barbaro’s upkeep, post-injury, because of the large amount of money looming in his future stud fees, and not because the owners bore any particular affection for the species or individual horse. ↵

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↵(That species, in a side note, is frightened by plastic bags blowing in the wind, bears no affection for its offspring in the wild past infancy, is primarily concerned with eating and breeding, and will most definitely not stop to help you on the side of the road if you happen to break your leg. Affection, with horses, is a largely one-sided emotion.) ↵

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↵This does not excuse treating an animal with cruelty, of course; nor does it excuse American racing’s abysmal “breakdown” rates. In the United States, 1.5 out of one thousand races feature a fatal injury to the horse. This may seem like an appalling rate, and compared to European racing, it is. ↵

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↵The solution is not a boycott. Rather, it may be to watch more horse racing, not less: increased interest in the sport means higher profits, meaning horses gain value and thus are handled more carefully as valuable commodities. Horse racing in the States will fix itself because of financial incentives: fewer dead horses means more money out of healthier, longer-lived horses. ↵

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↵The fatality rates in horse racing are a fact. So too, is this: you inarguably have better things to worry about right now. By the numbers, American reader, you are a fat, debt-ridden, anxious person with many problems of your own. You should be looking for a second job or going for a run around the block instead of venting outrage about horse racing on the internet or protesting a race in person. ↵

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↵(You are free to do this, PETA member, just as I am free to have eight drinks and yell at you from my car window in a drunken stupor. Freedom is an ugly but fair thing.) ↵

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↵As for the act of going to a race itself, it remains largely harmless. You watch 1800 pound animals with tiny men on their backs run at high speeds around a track. Before you do this, you probably kill a few brain cells with alcohol in the stands, or kill many brain cells with alcohol in the stands. You may even sleep with someone new and different as a result of all this drinking and excitement. All of this is perfectly legal in most states between consenting adults. ↵

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↵It is a combination of high finance, base human instinct, and amoral competition televised by large corporations for profit. In other words, it is as American and capitalist an endeavor as you will find. The most damage done on race day may be done to your liver and wallet, a purely self-inflicted wound you may blame on no one but yourself. If you really do have the free time and energy to worry about the horses without diverting precious energy from somewhere else in your life, you are probably wealthy enough to buy a horse yourself and show the world how it is done properly. ↵

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↵Spencer Hall loves horses, especially crazy-eyed Paints with attitude problems. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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