At Churchill Downs on Could sixth Mage, a 15-1 shot, got here from behind to win the Kentucky Derby, America’s pre-eminent horse race. The Derby, with its reputation, pageantry and mint juleps, is just not typical. “The best two minutes in sports activities” is the one two minutes of horse-racing many Individuals watch.
The industry’s popularity has been waning for many years. Attendance at racetracks is abysmal. New York’s Aqueduct, which opened in 1894, will quickly shut, like dozens of tracks since 2000. In 1989, there have been 74,071 races; final yr, simply 33,453. Solely 17,300 thoroughbred foals had been registered final yr, in line with the Jockey Membership. In 1990 it was 40,333.
Playing on horses was as soon as the one authorized type of betting in lots of components of the nation. Now casinos and online gambling are extra handy than a trek to the monitor. Progress in e-sports and fantasy-sports playing have additionally siphoned away potential new followers. Aside from the jockeys, it’s uncommon to see anybody underneath 50 on the monitor.
Scandals on security and doping haven’t helped. Medina Spirit, the winner of the Kentucky Derby in 2021, failed a post-race drug take a look at and was disqualified final yr. His coach, Bob Baffert, who has denied any wrongdoing, was banned from the Derby for 2 years. Within the 2018-19 season, 49 horses died at Santa Anita monitor in California.
In 2020 Congress intervened, passing laws on equine-safety requirements. The Horseracing Integrity and Security Authority started implementing them final July. The trade is already seeing the outcomes. In 2022 the Equine Harm Database reported a record-low charge of 1.25 fatalities per 1,000 begins. Its drug-control programme begins this month.
However the going continues to be tough. Some tracks have turn into “racinos”, with slot machines. A number of have poker tables. The dad or mum firm of the Churchill Downs monitor has created its personal online-gambling website and is investing in historic racing machines, a kind of slot machine.
House owners can make more cash from siring than from racing. Kathy Guillermo, a lawyer with PETA, an animal-rights group, factors out that horses are not bred to race, they’re raced to breed. The highest horses run a handful of races, retire at three or 4 and are sired out. House owners fear that in the event that they hold racing them the horses will break a leg and they’ll lose out on stud cash.
Some are calling for an finish to racing. Seven horses died at Churchill Downs earlier than the Derby. 4 had been euthanised after catastrophic leg accidents and one after a neck fracture. Racing’s survival in America is much from a secure wager.
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