Racing: the cruel commercial reality


New Zealand’s racing minister was preaching to the converted this week, addressing the annual general meeting of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Association, writes George McDonald.

Now, some of you might think I’m about to bag racing or its participants. That’s not the case at all, but the sad reality is that racing has one major problem that it may ultimately never truly overcome.

I thought the minister, John Carter, made a lot of sense in a wide-ranging speech about the future of the sport.

It was this part that got me thinking: “Maybe I’m the eternal optimist, but what I see is all good. People won’t go to the races if the racetracks don’t offer facilities as good, and preferably better, than other entertainment venues. They won’t even know about the races if the excitement of seeing and being part of the action on the track isn’t marketed to them.

“They won’t go into a TAB if they don’t feel welcome or don’t understand how the systems work. They won’t want to race or buy or breed horses if they have no idea about the magic of this sport. They won’t have a bar of the industry if they don’t see it as being run with integrity.”

The biggest problem faced by racing is that the sport never lost people like me – it never attracted them in the first place.

I’m at the younger end of the baby-boomer generation, one of four kids. Dad used to enjoy a flutter and belonged to workplace betting syndicates.

We’d listen to the radio as children to learn whether Dad’s picks were good enough to earn him the right to have another bet the following weekend.

But that’s about it. I cannot recall in my 30 years of adulthood even one play that the racing industry has made to get me along to the track or into the TAB.

I couldn’t tell you where my nearest TAB is. I know what a double, treble and quinella are, but wouldn’t have a clue how to place a bet.

I’ve had about two bets in my life – both placed by someone else.

I have no idea how comfortable or otherwise I would find facilities at racetracks should I turn up as an ordinary member of the public. Perhaps some readers might like to enlighten me.

Should I own a racehorse? Maybe that would be fun, but I hear it’s pretty costly. I must confess I’d be a little concerned about what fate befell my horse after its racing career. What about the remaining 20 years of its life?

I look at my siblings and they, too, are lost to the industry. They have their social and sporting interests and none of them relate to racing.

Now the racing fraternity might read this and think “silly townies. Why should we be surprised?” That’s not the case at all. As I write this, I can look out across pastures where five of our sporthorses graze.

I’m not entirely sure why racing has lost so many people over the course of my adulthood. Needless to say, it wasn’t a matter that concerned me because, put in the simplest terms, racing wasn’t on my radar.

Perhaps it would have been nice to make some money betting, but I always figured there were thousands of punters out there who knew a hell of a lot more about it than me.

Yes, racing can still turn on some glittering occasions – I’ve seen them on television. Perhaps they’re very profitable and maybe they even lure people into following the sport.

Most, I suspect, treat it as a special occasion and a special day out. A majority are clearly not there for the next meeting.

People, of course, are busier now and there are so many other things available to do.

Perhaps the industry will find strategies to lure “the lost generations” back. I suspect it will be very hard. The people I know of my age live full lives and it is hard to imagine any of them finding the time for another pastime.

The cruel reality is that racing dropped the ball long before the current generation of administrators took the reins.

And they should never underestimate the fickleness of the public.

As a youngster, I really enjoyed my rugby. As an adult I got pay-television and watched games.

One day, the All Blacks coach Graham Henry pulled the top players from Super Rugby to prepare his side for what would prove to be a Rugby World Cup debacle.

I watched a few games of Super rugby without these players but didn’t much like what I saw. I stopped watching and found something else to do. I got rid of pay-TV as a consequence, and the opportunity to watch rugby was pretty much gone.

I’ve seen only a handful of games since.

It didn’t much work as a strategy to win the World Cup, and it didn’t work with me, either.

C’est la vie.


This article has been written by a contributor to

10 thoughts on “Racing: the cruel commercial reality

  • June 25, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I’ve gone to the occasional race in Canada, did some betting but really didn’t expect to win anything… just there to see the horses. Part of the problem, at least for me, is that horses come and go so quickly, they can’t build up a following of fans. And frankly, the thought of going to a race and knowing that a lot of these athletes will end up on a dinner plate disgusts me. As will their broodmare mothers, and the rest of their ‘families’. I’m taking riding lessons at a H/J stable and they talk about how they feel sorry for the race horses, and so do I. Until they clean up their sport and take care of their athletes, I will probably never go to another race.

  • June 27, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I thought the article was going to comment on the cruel reality of racing – ie the appalling wastage of horses – not the fact that it’s foundering because punters are having a flutter elsewhere. Racing is a very expensive way of making a bet – there are thousands of ways people can throw their money away these days – and as a spectacle it’s lost its appeal because it has been challenged by so many other spectacles.

    And a large number of people like me would never attend the races or place bets because they disapprove, on ethical grounds, of the way the industry is run.

  • July 6, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Who wants to watch horses getting the crap beaten out of them. Not a pretty sight whether you know anything about horses or not.

    If someone did that to a dog on TV – can you imagine the outcry ?

    • July 13, 2010 at 12:03 am


      Racehorse do not ‘get the crap beaten out of them’. Maybe you should look into it a bit more before you make assumptions like this. Most of the time, the jockeys are not actually touching the horse with the whip, there are actually rules on how many times they can legally ‘hit’ the horse during stages of the race, including the last 600 and 200m.
      Just because you see the arm motion does not mean they hit the horses every time their arm goes down, if you look closely at photos and videos, you’ll often see the jockey waving the whip just behind the horses’ eye.

      I grew up riding borrowed ponies and attending and competing at Pony Club, so i can see where you are coming from. I can also say that while riding and competing I always thought the TB industry was cruel to horses, until I needed a summer job and worked on a stud in the Waikato when i was 18. I’m 23 now, and have been in the industry since. If you people actually bothered to look behind the scenes and not be so closed-minded you might see we don’t beat the crap out of horses.

      I will be working nights to foal 150 mares this season, early next year I will help wean and handle those foals, and early the following year i will prep them and take them to the sales, after that I will follow the careers of EVERY horse i have been involved with. I know the names each is given and how they ahve performed. And I can still tell you where every one of the 60 yearlings I prepped in my first TB job 5 years ago was stabled during that yearling prep.

      I hope people like you have never watched an NZ champion such as Sunline, or supported a Kiwi horse running in or winning the Melbourne Cup, such as Jezabeel, Ethereal, Might And Power, Efficient……. They are true champion athletes who don’t deserve to be watched by people who can’t appreciate the hard work put in by the people behind the scenes, who (this may surprise you !!!!) actually love horses just as much as ‘you’ do !!

      Get a life

      • July 14, 2010 at 10:02 am

        I’ve got a few more years, and I’ve seen occasions when the whip is overused.

        I think N America should adopt UK rules on that. A study by Monty Roberts showed on balance horses won more without the whip. just try and do more than show the stick to some of horses and you’ll wind up in the next county.

        I don’t agree that you have to be “worthy” to watch horses. They are pretty democratic animals. Mostly prefer people who don’t try to hurt them. I can understand that.

        A lot pf people in racing treat their horses like their own kids. Some of the best, fiercely loyal people are in the business.

        Others – in low end claiming ranks particularly – treat horses as insensible profit centers. The cheap claimers, who might have been stakes winners a few years before, – if they survive their last start, and don’t get shipped to slaughter – sometimes come off the track with the bodies of old men by age 7, without a penny for vet care.

        In a few years, you’ll learn by shouting down potential fans, or possible syndicate owners, you only exacerbate the reputation of elitism and stonewalling about legitimate humane issues. You’ll drive potential fans and syndicate owners away. A lot of people don’t know alot about horses, or the narrow sphere you are familiar with, but they are eager and open minded to learn.

        Instead of driving people away, provide some evidence that YOU are working to change racing for the better, stop slaughter, fund retirement and so on, and the public perception will change.

        If you’re in favor of horse slaughter, like some in the industry, here’s another education opportunity- read up on the drugs in race horses, like Phenylbutazone and Ivermectin, that are banned from the human food supply by law, and the diseases like cancer they cause in people.

        Read the evidence of what happens to horses unlucky enough to wind up in the slaughter pipeline, then do something to stop it.

        TBs can easily live to 25, 30 or more. The relevant question is, can you tell us where every one of the horses you handled 5 years ago is now, when they would be 6?

      • August 1, 2010 at 4:49 pm

        I worked in the industry in a leading stable in Sydney and witnessed abuse of horses, illegal drugging, whipping, you name it.

        These horses are abused. Lame and wounded horses were kept in training.

        To Janny R – How many of your foals have been dogged? Do you know? Do you care? Did you bother to find out their fates after they failed as racehorses? On average 18000 racehorses are dogged yearly in Australia. Any of them yours?

        Do you know the pressure of a bit in a horse’s mouth exerts horrific pain? Have you bothered to look at that scientific research? Did you know horses feel pain from carrying any weight on their backs. Then their backs go numb, only to suffer more pain as feeling comes back after a ride is over.

        I’m not just talking about racehorses I’m talking about all horses.

        For all horse people – if you truly love your horses – start looking up the research on pain in horses – you will be horrified. But I wonder how many of you will stop inflicting pain if it means you have to give up riding.

        Very few, I imagine. Because your entertainment at the end of the day will always outweigh the suffering of your horse.

        I gave up riding after over 20 years in many disciplines. I defined myself by riding. The day I saw the research I stopped. Because my horse’s welfare is more important to me than my ego.

  • July 31, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    I stopped going. I think we all have a primal urge to watch horses run, we probably have thousands of years of that in our blood. Now, living in our unbalanced way, we have gone to extremes to create an artificial environment just to satisfy the basic need to view the most exciting event of our ancient lives. BUT
    after watching horses being whipped, and a horse break his leg I felt disgusted at my self, and than learning about the disposability of these horses, like i had taken part in a my lai massacre, from the supply side supporting the troops. There is no excuse and i have to live with it, I’d contributed to it and now I sign a lot of stuff.The bones are so undeveloped at the age they race and They kill lots of lessor foals to put ‘better bred foals on the mare. Not much better than the veal industry is it? A 100,000 winner slows down and is rewarded with the terrifying ride and end moments experiencing the insane horror of the slaughter house. Remember, horses are much more sensitive to sounds and smells, and intentions.
    Unbridled was inspirational, we all want to see beauty like that and i have a Deputy Minister Grandson, he’s shockingly intelligent, i love him dearly! it KILLS me to think of other young horses related to him going to slaughter right now. If we can do this to horses we will do it to people as resources run out-the lesson is to stop this brutal process before we use it on ourselves. The quote from Anne Frank was sadly naive…

  • August 18, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Having been on the inside breaking and training it became obvious that like so many things in life there are good and bad players, You could often read how a yearling had been treated by its reactions to being handled.
    It is one of the hardest things to accept that these animals cant talk verbally because some of the stories they told would shock and probably send a handful of people to prison. Not to mention the use uf ritalin,sedetives and bute used to get some through the sale regime etc.-small wonder many thoroughbreds end up with ulcers.
    My sincere apologies to the good,kind and dedicated people out there, you do make a difference. However when good people stay silent it allows the abuse to continue,perhaps for racing to continue there needs to be more focus on the minimum requirements these equine athletes have for quality of life-and tracking through the career to get a clearer picture of the realities of an industry that becomes a form of factory farming at its worst.

  • August 30, 2010 at 12:16 am

    Hey TB supporter- what would you know eh? If the horses dont die from being forced to run- and in jumps racing this year stacks of horses have died, those that fail to win are sent long distance to the slaughterhouse.

    Stop defending what amounts to a cruel and barbaric activity. Maybe you dont give a rats arse about the animals- more interested in your back pocket, but there are thousands who cant stand horse racing and all the cruelty it stands for.

    So to all you people who breed for the racing industry- you breed to slaughter. May you rot in hell.

  • August 30, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Interesting article which focuses entirely on humans. Nothing about the cruelty suffered by millions of horses every year.

    Its as if they dont matter.

    Human entertainment. Human control. Human need to fritter money away.

    Horse racing is about human greed, stupidity, selfishness, self-absorbtion, and cruelty.


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