A Critical Critique of Horse Race Coverage

A horse race is a contest of speed between a team of horses that are ridden by jockeys or pull sulkies and their drivers. It is one of the most popular spectator sports in the world, drawing crowds of millions to grand venues such as the Kentucky Derby and the Italian Palio di Siena. Despite the popularity of horse racing, there is much debate about its safety and fairness. The underlying truth is that racing is an unnatural activity that puts the health and welfare of horses at risk.

The race is not about the horses’ natural ability to compete or to win a race; it is all about making money for owners, trainers, and breeders. To do this, racehorses are bred to run and trained in such a way that they are predisposed to injury and breakdowns. Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred horse racing lies a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter.

To make a profit, racehorses are forced to run at such high speeds that they frequently break their legs and other major organs, leading to amputations and death. They are also forced to train during a time when their skeletal systems are still developing, leaving them vulnerable to injuries and breakdowns.

In addition, the pounding of their feet and the high-speed impact of being hit by the other runners causes serious pain. Injuries can even cause horses to hemorrhage from their lungs, as was the case of the beloved racehorse Seabiscuit.

Moreover, many racehorses are injected with drugs to improve their performance and to prevent them from “going down” in the middle of the race. This is not only cruel to the animals, but it has also been linked to a number of diseases. In fact, a study commissioned by PETA found that the use of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing has caused a rise in bloodstream diseases in equine athletes, including laminitis and colic.

When journalists covering elections focus primarily on who’s in the lead instead of policy issues – what’s known as horse race coverage – voters, candidates and the news industry itself suffer, a growing body of research suggests.

A key critique of horse race reporting is that it encourages a focus on two competing candidates, to the detriment of primary contenders and third-party candidates. Keeping an eye on the underdogs is often a good strategy in horse racing, and it can be useful for journalists to apply this lesson when covering politics.

This updated roundup of research examines the effects of journalistic horse race coverage on voters, candidates and the news industry itself. It includes studies on the impact of focusing on polls, third-party political candidates and probabilistic forecasting.