A Kentucky Horse Race Is a Business and an Industry That Needs Steroids

The thunder of hooves barreling down the stretch of a horse race is one of the quintessential Kentucky experiences. Whether you’re betting a buck on the next Triple Crown winner or just watching for fun, it is a thrilling spectacle. It is also a multimillion-dollar industry, and like many industries it faces criticism from animal-rights activists who argue that the sport is unnatural for animals, that it’s inhumane to put horses under so much stress, and that racing’s profits come at a price that includes pain and suffering for equine athletes. A few years ago, Thoroughbred racing was having a good pandemic. Its TV channel, TVG, was included in many sports cable packages, and the sport attracted a new wave of fans. Then the trainer of a Derby and Preakness winner, Big Brown, was accused of using legal steroids that made his superstar horse perform better—even though it’s illegal to use steroids in races. The scandal tarnished the image of an otherwise beloved sport, and TVG lost viewers. But the sport is a business, and the people who run it share one goal: winning races. The owners, jockeys, and stable managers care about the welfare of their horses, and they are close to them in a way that most critics never are. They know their animals’ temperaments and quirks, and they are aware of the sensitivity of their horses’ feet (a thoroughbred’s back leg works like a spring that stretches and then rebounds, allowing them to go fast over long distances). They have watched their horses grow up and die. They know how to read a form, and they are familiar with the intricate ins and outs of race-day medication and nutrition. On the day of the Preakness, Nick Alexander sat at his kitchen table, looking at a racing form with Mongolian Groom and McKinzie on the top lines. The horses were all set to run that day at Santa Anita, and they would all be injected with Lasix that morning, a diuretic noted on the racing form with a boldface L. Lasix is prescribed to prevent pulmonary bleeding that can occur during hard running, and for decades almost every thoroughbred in the United States has received it before a race. Media scholars have studied the effects of news coverage that frames elections as a competitive game by presenting polling data as chances of a candidate winning or losing. They have found that this strategy discourages voting by elevating the cynicism people feel toward politics, especially among young adults who have limited experience with democratic processes. It also harms third-party or independent candidates by giving them the impression that they don’t have a real chance of winning, even if they are gaining ground against frontrunners.