02 February 2015

Horse racing in the US is dying.

    Thoroughbred horse racing in the United States is dying.

I've listed several reasons. I've kept them relatively short, because..well, because I could type for days and make this such a long post no one would read it. 
So, without further ado (wow..I've never used that phrase before), here are my reasoned reasonings.

1. Thoroughbreds are fast, but frail.

    In the last thirty years, they’ve been bred solely for speed. As is true in any sort of breeding for one trait, others suffer. So while they’re blazing fast, TB’s are so because they have too light bone, too small feet, skin half as thick as a regular horse, and a propensity for bleeding from their lungs which leads to:

2. Over-reliance on performance enhancing drugs. 

    This doesn’t necessarily mean steroids, although I’d bet my boots there are horses on steroids right now. I mean drugs like Bute and Lasix. A horse running on bute is doing so to mask the pain. A horse running on Lasix is doing so because its lungs aren’t capable of handling the high speed. I suspect some of the latter comes about due to:

3. Inbreeding

    Conformational defects, such as obstructed or too small airways in horses (to name but one) crop up far too often when closely related animals are bred to one another. Examples such as stallions serving their daughters are common.
   A few years ago, every single horse in the Kentucky Derby was related to the other horse in the field. They’re all Northern Dancer horses. By breeding solely to Northern Dancer, breeders got faster horses, but the older, unrelated bloodlines have died out. Breeders have no choice now than to breed their horse to a related horse. In biological terms, this is called a ‘genetic bottleneck’. In laymans’ terms, the breeders have bred themselves into a corner that they can only find a way out through outbreeding. But:

4. Refusal to bring in fresh blood. 

    Breeders refuse to bring in horses that were bred from non-speed bloodlines. If you were to suggest breeding to an eventing/hunting/showjumping/dressage Thoroughbred, you'd be laughed off the farm.They won't breed to a horse that doesn't have a racing background. It’s all about money, now, and breeding to an outside line (if one can be found) will mean that the horse will probably be stronger, have better stamina and endurance, and will never win a race.  
5.  Disgust at the very public breakdowns on the track

     Horses are breaking down more often for many reasons: they’re too light boned, raced too young raced too hard or too often, and racing on drugs. The public doesn’t know. What they do know is they can’t shake the memory of Eight Belles trying to stand  on the shattered ends of her cannon bones. 

 The gallant filly’s breakdown wasn’t the only memorable breakdown, but with far better cameras, it was far more observable and visceral.   

6. Off  track betting and Casinos

    Whether we like it or not, gambling pays for horse racing. When Off Track Betting became legal, and the later legalization of casinos, gamblers didn’t have to go to the track, could bet on other sports, and play other gambling games.

7.  Loss of interest in the sport

   The variety of means to gamble is part of this, but the increasingly urban nature of the fan plays a very big part. Horses were an important part of the American culture until after World War II. Now you can meet people who have not only never met a horse, in some cases, can’t discriminate between a horse and a cow. 

8.  Fewer breeders 

     The number of people who are actively breeding Thoroughbreds has been dropping like a rock. It takes a lot of room and even more money to breed racehorses. Kentucky Blue Grass country is no longer mile after mile of farms with names like Calumet, Idle Hour, Claiborne Farms, BelAir Stud. Nowadays, the Pike is lined with names like Walmart, Gated Community, Starbucks, and McDonald’s Hamburgers.

11. Fewer horses

     My home state, not the biggest of TB producers, produced only 350 Thoroughbred foals in 2014. Given that only a few actually get to the track, that’s not enough to maintain a sport.  This results in a situation such as that found at Aqueduct, a famous track near New York City. Aqueduct led the nation in numbers of breakdowns at its track (I want to say it was 28 horses in one season.). The reason: the track had been purchased by a nearby casino, which, on the face of it, would make you think it a good thing. But there are far fewer racing horses now. They’re being raced more often than once every thirty days (I may be wrong on how long a horse may rest between races). They’re being raced while sore. They’re being raced too far, too fast, too often, without a rest-which leads to breakdowns.

9.  Fewer tracks.

    Even storied tracks such as Pimlico (in Maryland) have to fight off the ever increasing demand for their properties. Developers look at the track as so much ‘wasteland’ that they could turn into millions of dollars for their pockets. Cities see that land as far better used for things like strip malls and office buildings.

10. Fewer jockeys. 

    We as a nation are getting heavier. The century old regulation that a jockey weigh no more than 115 pounds is a difficult weight to maintain. In the early part of the last century, most jockeys were black, due much in part because they grew up malnourished, and therefore, small and thin. White boys took over after the Depression, possibly for the same reason. Beginning in the 60’s, however, the jockeys ranks were..and continue to be filled with Hispanic men, as both black and white Americans are better fed and bigger. Owners and trainers were blatantly sexist, refusing to allow girls to be jockeys until the late 70’s. Even now, most jockeys are Hispanic because they are usually shorter and lighter weight than the average American of any race or sex. 
Need I also mention that so many youngsters have never ridden a horse and probably never will. 

11. Cheating trainers

      Cheating trainers aren’t new. It just amazes me that they still try it, but they do. In the case of the big name races, there are too many eyes to see nonsense going on,  but in the smaller tracks/races, there’s still a lot of cheating going on. Horses forced to run with a sponge up one nostril, or horses are 'milk shaked'..calcium carbonate pumped directly into their stomachs just before a race-are just a few of the ways to 'enhance' a horse without using drugs. When they’re found out, they are fined, but not banned, which means they get away with it. The horse suffers. 

12. Bleeding hearts who think the horses are being forced to run.

     Organizations exist that focus on what they think is abuse to the animal,  and have a lot of money to make their point. Given enough money and legislative palms to grease, they can and have gotten tracks shut down.(and I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't a developer funding the effort). These people, though, don't know squat about the horse. All they see is what they perceive as 'cruelty'. They point to the jockey's whip as proof of force.  They cannot believe that you cannot make a horse run if it doesn't want to. And they don't want to believe that Thoroughbreds run for the love of it.

13. Television producers that focus on everything but the horse

     Most people cannot afford to actually go to the track, so watch it on television. 
     Television producers such as NBC have turned horse racing into a circus, complete with clowns dressed in hideous hats; Hollywood celebrities mugging for the camera; "Page 3", (dressed, but obviously well endowed) blonde “reporters”  who proudly proclaim that they know nothing whatsoever about horse racing; dress designers discussing the latest fashions; ‘human interest’ stories that have only the faintest connection to the horse; and football players being given a tiny task in order to make the tie in for NBC’s real money maker, football.  The horse is so forgotten that in many cases, the only thing you know about it is its name and the odds on it.We can see this crap on regular television every day, so why bother watching it at what is supposedly a horse race?

  The Thoroughbred loves to run. I would love to see TB racing where there is no jockey and no handicapping. Put the horses in the gate and let them go. THAT would be fun. 
But I'm dreaming. That will never happen.

   It's sad, but I am convinced that Thoroughbred racing in the US is on its last legs.

Picture citations: 

No comments: