Horse racing is a sport, and as such, it has its own rules, traditions, and history. But it’s also an industry—a for-profit business that treats horses like disposable commodities. If you’re an owner, you can run your horse into the ground with near impunity.
That’s one reason why the horse race is unequivocally unnatural. In the wild, horses live and die by the rules of self-preservation. They understand that if they get hurt, it’s best for their health to stop running and to rest so they can heal. On a racetrack, however, humans perched on their backs compel them to keep going at breakneck speed by means of the whip—an instrument that can injure and even kill them.
But even if we could make it better for the animals, horse racing would have to decide that they matter enough to take complicated, expensive and untraditional steps to protect them. That would involve a profound ideological reckoning at the macro business and industry level as well as within the minds of horsemen. It would mean everything from putting a cap on the number of times that a horse can be run, to establishing an aftercare regime and incorporating a more natural and equine friendly lifestyle for racehorses.
For instance, the original King’s Plate races were standardized races for six-year-olds who competed with each other in 4-mile heats. In order to qualify, a racehorse had to win two of these heats. Then, in 1751, five-year-olds were admitted to the races and the heats were shortened to 2.5 miles.
Benter’s model monitored just 20 inputs, a fraction of the infinite factors that influence horse race outcomes. But he’d spent years tinkering with the software, and he was convinced that temperature was an important factor in how a horse ran. So, he took a train to southwest England, where British meteorologists kept records of Hong Kong weather data. He copied years of figures into a notebook and then brought the information back to his computers in Hong Kong.
At the starting gate, Mongolian Groom balked. Then, as the eleven horses set off down the dirt track, War of Will, that year’s Preakness winner, forged ahead. He held the lead around the clubhouse turn, with Mongolian Groom and McKinzie, a small-framed bay, closing fast. When they reached the stretch, though, the field was strung out.