A metaphor for our times: Death and maiming at the racetrack

As if we needed more images of a society putting all at risk for more money: A team of New York Times reporters has documented rising levels of death and catastrophic injuries among jockeys and horses at America’s racetracks (link here). They open with a typical account:

At 2:11 p.m., as two ambulances waited with motors running, 10 horses burst from the starting gate at Ruidoso Downs Race Track 6,900 feet up in New Mexico’s Sacramento Mountains.

Nineteen seconds later, under a brilliant blue sky, a national champion jockey named Jacky Martin lay sprawled in the furrowed dirt just past the finish line, paralyzed, his neck broken in three places. On the ground next to him, his frightened horse, leg broken and chest heaving, was minutes away from being euthanized on the track.

The injury rates are spiking upwards amidst economic pressures facing the racing industry:

…(A)n investigation by The New York Times has found that industry practices continue to put animal and rider at risk. A computer analysis of data from more than 150,000 races, along with injury reports, drug test results and interviews, shows an industry still mired in a culture of drugs and lax regulation and a fatal breakdown rate that remains far worse than in most of the world.

If anything, the new economics of racing are making an always-dangerous game even more so. Faced with a steep loss of customers, racetracks have increasingly added casino gambling to their operations, resulting in higher purses but also providing an incentive for trainers to race unfit horses.

A metaphor for our times

Although the morality of the horse racing comes up from time to time in the media, to me there are much more compelling ethical issues concerning animals. Furthermore, I don’t know much about the world of the sport, and I don’t feel qualified to judge it.

Nevertheless, when the sport becomes unduly hazardous to riders and horses, it’s time to take a hard look at what’s going on. And what we have here is a metaphor for our times: To stoke the betting fires of those chasing a big pay day at the racetrack, man and horse alike are put in harm’s way, speed fueling speed, circling the track over and again, only to end up where they started.

As a result, the jockeys are facing greater than normal risks, and their choices boil down to staying vs. walking away. As for the horses, they don’t decide whether to be juiced up with drugs, and if they are badly injured as a result, they have no role in determining their fates.

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