Tickets are currently on sale for the Kentucky Derby, and if 2017 is anything like the last few years, over 100,000 people will go to the event on May 5. Those who can’t shell out $1,000 on tickets — or the haute couture — will be part of the 16 million TV viewers. But what these fans may not realize is that hidden behind the glamour of oversized hats and mint juleps is the dark reality of horse racing: animal abuse.
There is no denying that horse racing is a form of animal torture. The entirety of the sport, if it can even be defined as such, is founded on humans using horses as commodities to chase success, prestige and fame. Like stage parents pawning their children off to shoddy agents, jockeys make decisions for the horses with selfish desires.
While fans of the highbrow tradition and culture of the event might only care about horses long enough to marvel at their grace on the track, is ignorant apathy enough to look beyond what happens behind stable doors?
In March 2014, PETA sent an undercover agent to the Saratoga Race Course to expose the everyday abuse inflicted on the horses. The results of the investigation are horrifying. Every horse is given a concoction of drugs. Lasix and Thyrozine are given to all horses without being tested to see if they need them. The veterinarian on the racecourse site told PETA’s undercover agent that these medications are not needed by almost all of the horses and are given for no reason other than performance enhancement.
Drugging the horses is only a small part of the abusive methods used by jockeys and trainers. Freeze firing, a way to treat a horse injury by freezing with acid, is often done with little care for the horse’s best interest. Shockwave therapy is another commonly used practice by racehorse owners with no consideration of how the horse will react. As trainer Steve Asmussen said, “[Shockwave therapy] hurts like f*cking hell. I can’t believe them f*cking sons of bitches can take it.”
On top of the maltreatment the horses face before the race, they are also subjected to hidden shock devices used by jockeys. While this practice is illegal, it is reported to be commonly used. As Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas admitted to PETA’s undercover agent, it was “a full-blown orchestra” behind the gates from the buzzing of shock devices.
While PETA’s bias is often called into question for topics of animal cruelty, the footage doesn’t lie. Perhaps the most disheartening part of PETA’s video is the way the trainers and jockeys discuss the horses when cameras aren’t rolling for post-race interviews. The loving words raving about their favorite horses are replaced by calling them “aggravating sons of bitches.”
It may not be fair to pigeonhole all jockeys and trainers as animal abusers. Maybe there are a couple of decent ones out there — as decent as you can be while still using animals as commodities. But it’s definitely not fair to subject animals to the cruel practices that are clearly happening.
Greyhound dog racing is illegal in 40 states. The only difference between the two sports, other than about 900 pounds, is the culture surrounding them. The haughty nature of horse racing blinds people from the truth. Fans are drawn to horse racing for the blue skies and pastel cocktails to match their new clothes. The Kentucky Derby website even has a page dedicated to telling people what to wear.
While fans of the Kentucky Derby spend time shopping for hats to match their shoes, the New York Times reports that 24 horses die a week on race tracks.
It has been almost three years since PETA released their video, and yet horse racing is still just as alive. The 2015 race was the second most watched Kentucky Derby of all time, with 16.2 million viewers according to Comcast.
When you participate in a horse race, you’re playing a part in those 24 weekly murders, whether you’re a jockey, trainer or fan. It is ignorant to believe that you can be an innocent bystander at a horse race. Tradition and history are not enough to justify the torture of innocent animals as a legal sport.
Rebecca Klar is a senior majoring in English.