A Horse Race Turns Into a Whirlwind of Pain and Fear

horse race

In the United States, horse races are not just an athletic event – they’re a multibillion-dollar business that is rife with drug abuse and injuries, as well as illegal and questionable activities. Ultimately, the horses are the victims, and their careers often end at the slaughterhouse. But they are also subject to an intense whirlwind of pain and fear, from being whipped to racing on hard-packed dirt at speeds over 30 miles per hour, to being confined in a tiny stall that makes them fret rather than rest.

This year, the Breeders’ Cup, one of the most prestigious races in the world, was held at Santa Anita Park. The race managers and track officials reassured the public that the horses’ safety was their top concern. They flooded the area with veterinarians and expensive imaging equipment, and they kept an eye on each animal during morning workouts.

Then, as the race came down to its final furlongs, War of Will was battling for the lead with Mongolian Groom and McKinzie. The crowd, both the hard-core daily bettors and those who watched the race on television, cheered for their favorite.

But what the fans didn’t see was a horse in distress. As the pack neared the finish line, it became obvious that War of Will was tired. Its front legs were trembling. Its jockey was urging it on with the whip, but it was reluctant to give in.

The last few strides were a nightmare for the animal, as it was forced to take in a mouthful of grain and gulp down water. It’s not surprising that the animal had an asthma attack, which can be triggered by exertion and stress. Its jockey had to lean over and hold it by the neck, and he struggled to maintain control of the animal while he fought for his breath.

By the time the race was over, a vet had checked the horse and found that it had a sesamoid fracture, which is a fracture of two small bones in the back of the ankle called the medial and lateral sesamoids. Sesamoid fractures are very common in horses and can cause significant pain and disability.

The horse had been injected that morning with Lasix, a diuretic. This is a standard practice in horse racing because, according to the official stewards’ report on the Breeders’ Cup, “only a very small percentage of thoroughbreds are serious bleeding bleeders and for decades nearly every horse on the track has been given a dose of Lasix before a race, and it serves as a diuretic, making them unload epic amounts of urine, twenty or thirty pounds worth.” The medication also prevents pulmonary bleeding that can occur during hard running.