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What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a close competition among horses ridden by jockeys or pulled by sulkies and drivers. The term is also used figuratively to refer to any close contest, especially political races. For example, an election may be described as a horse race because the two candidates are battling each other for votes in key swing states.

The sport of horse racing has been influenced by technological advances, but the industry remains stubbornly stuck in the past with regard to basic animal welfare. It’s high time that it embraces the advances of our so-called Information Age, including thermal imaging cameras to monitor a horse’s post-race condition, MRI and X-ray technology to diagnose minor and major injuries, and 3D printing for casts, splints, and prosthetics to speed up healing times.

It was a bright, warm day in the Maryland countryside when the horses walked onto the backstretch, drenched in pinkish light and moving with huge strides and hypnotic smoothness. War of Will took the lead in the early going, with McKinzie and Mongolian Groom right on his heels. At the clubhouse turn you could see that War of Will was tiring, and at the top of the stretch Vino Rosso surged to take a narrow lead over the rest.

Spectators in the grandstand and on the backstretch cheered and shouted their support. It was all very exciting, but there was an underlying sadness that permeated the air. The fact is that most racehorses will not win. The ones who do will not necessarily be rescued. Instead, they’ll hemorrhage into a slaughter pipeline where they’re offered Facebook posts and a brief window to be “bailed” before being shipped off to Mexico or Canada for the slaughterhouse. The for-profit business that created them will not take responsibility for them or give them a safe, secure future.

Horse racing has always been a gamble, but in the days before modern veterinary science and medical care, many horses died as a result of unchecked gambling. The first documented horse race in history was held as a wager between two noblemen during the reign of Louis XIV. The sport began to be regulated in the 1740s by royal decree, which included requirements for certificates of origin, restrictions on the use of foreign horses, and weight penalties on imported sulkies.

The word “horse race” has long been a synonym for a political contest, and it’s likely that the same is true today. The mudslinging and name calling in this election season are so intense that the issues at stake are often obscured. Critics say that news outlets tend to focus on two candidates chasing each other in the polls, to the detriment of primary contenders and third-party candidates. But the same lesson that horse-racing offers—that it pays to keep an eye out for underdogs—could serve journalists well this year.