Horse racing, if not exactly as old as the hills, is certainly one of the oldest forms of recreation known to people and to countries. It has spread from a passion of royalty and the elite, to entertainment which is entirely egalitarian in character. Horse racing has also spread from pockets of the ancient and colonial worlds to all corners of the globe. Computers and satellites have made it possible for punters to follow their favorite form of sports gambling at distant race tracks and throughout the year as well.
One could be forgiven for assuming that the future prospects for horse racing are unblemished and beyond question, but such an assessment would not be true. Opponents of horse racing may not be numerous, but they can be vociferous! Ongoing deliberations in the US Congress regarding exempting horse racing from provisions of the proposed Internet Gambling Prohibition Act serve to throw some of the controversies surrounding the much-loved sport in to the limelight. There are some important steps which the horse racing industry can take to respond constructively to some of the more substantial hurdles in the way of future development of the sport.
Strengthen regulation: though allegations about race fixing, illegal betting and related sharp practices may be played up unduly and lack any basis, it is up to race track owners and bookmakers to promote transparency in the conduct of events, with sharp and public censure of all wrong doers. Stewards have key roles to play in increasing public trust in the horse racing system.
Treat horses humanely: the outpouring of emotions for the injured Barbaro is a strong indicator of the horror that wasting horses wantonly can evoke. The horse racing image will receive a much needed boost if Barbaro is rehabilitated as a stud. The top veterinary facilities he received stand out in sharp contrast, in any case, from the summary executions handed out in the past to injured horses.
Insure jockeys affordably: States in which just one health insurance company operates tend to be held to ransom with wanton increases in premiums needed to insure jockeys. Horse racing faces serious threats from this quarter. Riders, for all the risks which are part and parcel for their vocation, deserve better.
Make the sport safer: artificial surfaces, with even finish, may offer better safety profiles than traditional dirt tracks and turf, which can hide many a dangerous obstacle. Better race track emergency infrastructure can also help riders and horses recover better and fully from routine and recurring accidents.
Use modern technology wisely: cloned mules have raced in Las Vegas. We do not know enough about the welfare of some indigenous breeds on far-flung continents. Horse racing needs a considered policy on use of genetic technology, and one for biodiversity conservation as well.
Horse racing lovers agonize over the few days of events that they enjoy each year at local race tracks. The pleasures of odds betting based on systematic study of racing form and on careful observation of practice sessions, stable management and past race recordings, are not to be denied to the knowledgeable and for those who have acquired relevant skills with care and over time. There are many categories of stakeholders for who protecting the future of horse racing matters and responding to some genuine concerns related to the sport is probably the most consensual way to proceed.