The Dangers of a Horse Race

A horse race is a contest of speed among horses that either run on their own or are pulled by jockeys and drivers. It is one of the oldest of all sports and its basic concept has remained unchanged for centuries. It may have evolved from a primitive contest of strength and stamina into a global spectacle that involves huge fields of runners and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, but it remains essentially the same: The horse that crosses the finish line first wins.

In addition, a host of other factors can affect a horse’s performance. The position of a horse relative to its rivals, the amount of weight that it is assigned in a race, its age, sex and training can all have an effect.

Despite all these variables, the most successful horse races are those that have been carefully planned and prepared. Breeders, jockeys and trainers often invest tens of thousands of dollars in preparation for a race. And when a horse does win, it brings the owners a great deal of financial reward, usually in the form of winnings from bets placed by the public.

The nature of horse racing makes it a particularly dangerous sport. A horse’s life is a precarious one even in the best of times, but the risks increase exponentially when they are bred and trained for race competition. It is not uncommon for a racehorse to die from heart failure, pulmonary hemorrhage or blunt-force trauma caused by collisions with other horses and the track itself. Dead racehorses can have broken necks, severed spines, ruptured ligaments and shattered legs that are barely held together by skin.

Breeding 1,000-pound thoroughbreds with massive torsos and spindly legs for the purpose of putting them into intensive training is a recipe for disaster. These animals do not reach full maturity until they are six, and they are thrust into intensive racing programs at a young age. Their bones are still growing and their bodies are not fully developed, but they are forced to exert themselves for up to 23 hours a day in small, 12-by-12-foot stalls. Emotionally and physically, this can lead to catastrophic injuries.

Media scholars have long criticized news coverage that frames elections as competitive horse races, using public opinion polls to disproportionately emphasize frontrunners and give them more positive attention than challengers, and giving the most coverage to frontrunners who are in the lead. Such horse race journalism harms voters, candidates and the news industry itself, a growing body of research suggests.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to eliminate this type of reporting, which enjoys broad First Amendment protections. In the absence of better alternatives, the only thing that can be done is to make sure that these kinds of stories are not so distorted in their presentation of the race. This collection of research updates that effort, focusing on studies that examine the impact of this style of reporting on voter engagement and election outcomes.