Horse racing has been morally dubious at the best of times and as time goes on it partly remains a sport still in the dark ages, a time before professionalism. The questionable treatment of the horses, drug use and being a sport built around gambling, however in the name of the “greater good”, I must overlook personal problems because of how towns similar to Cheltenham are reliant on the income that the event brings in.
Firstly looking at why I’m opposed to it, horses begin training for races at the age of two, when their bodies are still developing and they’re growing. Therefore, even in the early stages of racing injuries are common and a large amount of horses never even make it to the track, and as horse riding training goes, the line between abusive and effective training is an incredibly blurred line.
The use of drugs is also prominent in racing, specifically a drug called lasix is the most common. Lasix stops bleeding in the lungs during intense exercise, the most negative impact of this is that it allows a horse to continue running even when it’s body is physically shutting down. It’s used to push horses to the brink of their physical capabilities at the cost of their own health.
Then comes the deaths. While euthanasia on the track itself isn’t as common in the UK, in a 2018 article from the New York Times it was reported that 10 horses died every week at American race tracks over the course of the racing season. However, in England a lot of horses face a grim fate after retirement as a racer, in the UK alone roughly 5,000 horses are sent to France abattoirs each year, the majority of those horses are either failed or injured racehorses.
And then there’s gambling, British bookmakers earn a combined profit of one billion pounds each year from horse racing, gambling is widely known to be dangerously addictive and while it’s becoming somewhat condemned in most sports with football teams. For example, removing betting sponsors from their shirts, horse racing is still very much built on a foundation of gambling with it being what draws a large amount of its viewers.
So, while this is all very morally dubious, it can’t be looked at without looking at the bigger picture. I don’t personally attend the races and I never will, but nor would I ever be against it, the money it draws for the local economy is massive. It’s relied upon for towns that have these big scale events just once a year.
The festival raises £100 million for the Cheltenham economy, it helps bring customers to the smaller independent businesses, it creates jobs at the race course and various temporary work throughout the town. So in a year in which the entire UK economy has taken a massive hit due to the coronavirus pandemic and fans can’t attend the Cheltenham Festival, it’s clear now more then ever how important the event and spectacle is to the town, and while you may not agree with it like me, it must be understood that it’s critical for the livelihood for the people of Cheltenham.