Despite its glitz and glamour, horse racing is a sport in crisis. Injuries and deaths are a daily reality. Horses routinely die from cardiac episodes and broken limbs during the exorbitant physical stress of training, racing and retraining. A handful of nonprofit horse rescues network, fundraise and work tirelessly to help them survive and thrive. But for the majority that do not, the horror is all too real. They hemorrhage into the slaughter pipeline and end up in places like Louisiana, where a Facebook post and a short window of opportunity to be “bailed” are all they get before they are shipped to Mexico or Canada to meet their horrifying ends.
There are essentially three types of people in the horse racing industry. There are the crooks who knowingly drug and otherwise abuse their horses and then dare anyone to catch them. There are those in the gullible middle, who labor under the false assumption that their beloved sport is broadly fair and honest. And then there are the honorable masses, who know things are far more crooked than they ought to be but who still don’t do all that they can to fix it.
The fact that the Times hitched its wagon to PETA gives the sport’s legions of apologists room to dodge, deflect and blame the messenger, but it is a mistake to confuse hostility toward the animal rights group with dismissal of its work. Virtually no one outside of racing cares how activists acquire video of alleged cruelty, just what the footage shows.
The exploitation of young running horses is inherently cruel and dangerous, and the industry cannot avoid it. But if the people who make money from the sport don’t stop taking advantage of younger runners, they will have no choice but to eventually fade away. The sport may have an intractable problem with drugs, but it can address the exploitation of young horses by creating an adequately funded industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution. That would save lives. Then horse racing could be what it once was: a thrilling and enthralling sport. This article originally appeared on The Times’ Race & Sports pages.