Running For Their Lives: The Horses of the Kentucky Derby

If you’ve been following my posts, you know, by now, that I’m an avid animal lover and activist. This past weekend, the 137th annual Kentucky Derby took place at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The event, which draws thousands of guests, is arguably the most anticipated horse race in the United States each year. The race is made specifically for three-year-old Thoroughbred horses and is only two kilometres in length, but is known, throughout the sporting world as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports.” Exciting for whom, you might ask? Well, I suppose that all depends on what you define as exciting. For the horses, they are, quite literally, running for their lives.

Like greyhound dogs, Thoroughbred horses who compete in the Kentucky Derby are seen as a commodity of sorts. They are expected to perform and perform well and, above all, earn money. If they do not meet the “needs” of their rider or owner, they are shipped off to slaughterhouses. They no longer have any value in the industry and are seen as disposable. Even former racing champions, horses who have earned their owners and spectators enormous wealth, have been found at auctions or in slaughterhouses.

Don’t believe me? Karyn Zoldan, author of “2011 Kentucky Derby and Horse Racing Injuries” in the Tuscon Tails elaborates: “Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner who went on to capture the following year’s Horse of the Year title won eight of 29 starts and earned $3,777,978.00, died in a foreign slaughterhouse in 2002.” Apparently his net worth of almost $4 million wasn’t enough to keep him from succumbing to the same fate as so many before and after him. Ferdinand died almost 25 years ago. One can only imagine how many more horses have followed in his footsteps since.

So, this is what we call sport, let alone “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports”? Growing up, I was always active in the sporting world. I played a variety of sports and a great deal of emphasis was always put on fair play and creating a bond between team members. What about the Kentucky Derby seems fair at all? These horses, selected for their skill and speed, are tossed, like trash, if they don’t meet their full potential. If I were a Kentucky Derby horse, I would have been sent to the slaughterhouse ages ago.

In the world of horse racing, there is no room for error. It’s torture to think that these beautiful, majestic creatures are reduced to mere nickels and dimes. Even at auction, they are sized up for their monetary value. This year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, is living a dream, but for how long? How many years will it take before he, too, is sent to his grave for simply not making the grade. Under all the glitz and glamour, the Kentucky Derby gives new meaning to the phrase “do or die.”

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