Horse racing is about blood, sweat and drugs

Let’s call time

Bang! And they’re off.

A day at the races suggests glamour, sunshine, fresh air, and high stakes. It’s a middle-class tradition. Anticipation tingles as attendees arrive – tickets in hand, and a fancy hat on the head – for the picturesque start of the spring ‘season’. Britain is out to play.

This week it’s Cheltenham, in a few months it will be Ascot. Of course, the reality is less glamorous: muggy air, flies, the ugly faces of acquisitive gamblers baying at the horses. But we squint over this ugly side of the races just as we ignore the real cruelty of the event: standing in a field, witnessing the brutality, soliciting it with the bills we clutch in our greedy little hands.

We’re sucked in and forget the real ‘stars’ of the show. For the racehorses are expendable. Many race to their deaths, all in the name of ‘entertainment’ (and sometimes, our profit).

How this is an acceptable day out baffles me. Especially for a generation that should really know better. Not only does it signify our greed, but our ignorance and hypocrisy. In 2004 we banned fox hunting and 2013 we kicked off about horsemeat burgers. But here we are. We continue to turn a blind eye to former race horses retiring to slaughterhouses. According to Animal Aid around 1,000 British racing horses are killed for dog food or horse meat a year. After being subjected to drugs (most of which are legal, but still), training and whipping they don’t even get to enjoy their retirement.

It’s a bloodsport, and it’s soulless. Racehorses are treated like a commodity: like cars you can fill up with fuel, put a turbo in and crank up the gear. It doesn’t work like that, they’re not machines. The fact we place a tiny person on top of that well-built stronghold shows a pathetic instinct to conquer anything we might have dominion over.

We inject the horses with steroids and painkillers, then ride and whip the poor things – on paper it’s cruel, but because it’s  tradition it stands. Horses love to run. You know that landscape where there’s a band of wild horses escaping through the country? It’s beautiful. But stuck on a track, let alone a machine running around in pointless circles? Hooked up to wires with nowhere meaningful to go?

Anyone who shows up to the race condones the cruelty. Each pound you make is a scar, each hat you buy is a horseshoe, and each divot you turn over should be a reminder of the blood, sweat and drugs that went into making it. Happy racing.