A Horse Race is a Contest of Speed and Stamina

A horse race is a contest of speed and stamina between two horses, in which a human perched on the back of each tries to urge it forward to breakneck speeds. The concept of a horse race has developed over the centuries from primitive contests involving animals connected to wheeled carts and chariots to a global entertainment business with enormous prize money, but its essential feature remains: one horse wins, the other loses.

Until recently, nearly all thoroughbreds ran with Lasix, the drug that’s marked on racing forms with a big “L.” The given reason is to prevent pulmonary bleeding, which hard running causes in many horses. But the diuretic function of Lasix is what matters most: It makes a horse unload epic amounts of urine—twenty or thirty pounds’ worth.

Breeding 1,000-pound, spindly-legged thoroughbreds for the sole purpose of racing them is a recipe for breakdowns and deaths. Horses do not reach full maturity—that is, the bones in their neck and spine have fused and stopped growing—until age 6, so they are thrust into intensive training at 18 months and into races at 2, the rough equivalent of a first-grade child.

When the stakes are high, as they are in a major horse race, the trainer and the owner have an incentive to push a horse past its limits. And that’s precisely what happens: A dead racehorse can suffer a wide range of injuries, including cardiac arrest and severed spines.

In addition, the horse’s life can be disrupted by a variety of stressful events, such as travel to and from the track, being crowded with other horses, competing on unfamiliar surfaces and going up or down in class (from maiden to stakes races). A jockey can also be injured or killed. In fact, horse-racing injury rates are higher than those of any other sport.

The relationship between a horseman and a racehorse is an unusual one. A piece of property, a racehorse is essentially a disposable commodity that can be compelled to run into the ground and even to death with near impunity.

For decades, researchers have studied how journalists frame elections as a competitive game, giving the most attention to frontrunners and underdogs—what’s known as horse race coverage. The results are clear: voters, candidates and the news industry itself suffer when journalists focus on race-based reporting instead of policy issues that can influence voter choices. This collection of updated research examines the effects of that strategy, and what can be done to change it.