Is Horse Racing Dead?


Will Nolan, Staff Writer

The 149th Kentucky Derby was run this weekend at the storied Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. While the race saw an exciting finish between the winner: Mage and the Runner-Up: Two Phil’s, what happened off the track has garnered more conversation than the race itself.

Horse racing has always been a rather polarizing sport that appeals to a select group of people.  The sport has fallen out of favor and failed to fully appeal to the younger generation.  This could be due to a variety of factors.  The first could be the sports lack a central figure, there is no central figure, or face of the sport like Lebron James in the NBA or Patrick Mahomes in the NFL.  The “stars” are horses, aged 2-3, that compete for only a few minutes and are never seen again by the American public.  Second, the money involved with horse racing makes it appeal to a specific group: the “wealthy”.  Anybody can watch the race or even attend the race, but the amount of money involved with horse training is just too much for an everyday person to be completely invested in it like they are other sports.  The “highest level” of the sport (Derby, Preakness, and Belmont) only happen once a year between April-June.  This makes it often sneak up on the American people or fall completely on the back burner until the competition appears.

The third reason is the sport’s lack of a champion.  While a horse does win every race, we never see horses win the “triple crown”.  The triple crown happens when the horse wins all three of the major races.  It has happened twice in the past ten years (American Pharoah 2015, Justify 2018) and it had not happened before that when Affirmed won all three in 1978.   It is also physically impossible to see a repeat champion because the horse’s body does not last long enough to race for more than a few months.  Once a horse wins and the competition season ends, they retire, win or lose.  However, the sport has likely fallen out of favor with the American people for this main reason: Controversy.

Over the years, multiple animal rights groups have protested the running of horses over the inhumane and cruel treatment of them in order to get results.  They have also argued for safer track conditions, and this year they got the exact arguing point that they needed for the shutting down of the Derby.  Seven horses died in the days leading up to the running of the Derby, whether this be due to injury, illness, or natural causes, this gives the exact argument that groups like PETA want and the situation will be interesting to follow in the next few months and years.

Despite dropping numbers and less and less interaction with the American people, it is wrong to say that horse racing is not dying.  The Kentucky Derby still draws a huge crowd every year, millions are still generated from betting on the event, and people still watch it on TV.  Is it improving, no, but it is certainly not dead yet.