Of racehorses and racecars

Since I don’t follow horse-racing, the salient detail from the press about the on-track euthanization of Eight Belles was that I found myself agreeing with Sallie Jenkins – not a frequent occurrence. However, I think she was quite right that Eight Belles’ fate was in no way unrelated to the breeding paradigm for elite horse racing.

The analogy I make, for my own simple understanding, is that breeding race horses is rather like building a Formula 1 racing car: the parts that give speed are allowed to grow, but weight must be saved somewhere else. In breeding terms, it’s by selecting for skinny legs and ankles, and in racing terms, it’s keeping weight, especially unsprung weight to a minimum. There’s a reason that there are safety requirements for drivers’ areas in the cars, or else they’d still be sitting on cushions in the middle of the fuel tanks and counting on being thrown clear for survival. But I digress.

At the risk of sounding unsentimental, it’s no surprise that horses break down periodically – and while spectators may recoil at the prospect of a horse being put down on the spot, it’s part and parcel of the sport. If you’re there, you’re part of that culture, even if the mercy killings bother you. Still, it’s surely better to be upset about an animal’s suffering than to be one of the yahoos who watches car racing for the crashes, which could easily result in the death of one or more humans.

To which end, I’ve picked a couple of crashes from Formula 1 to illustrate the point about selecting parts to be light for speed and how it can all  go wrong – but in both cases, the driver walked away.

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3 Responses

  1. […] racehorses and racecars May 6, 2008 – 3:07 pm | Ahmet Turgut Escribio un articulo buenisimo hoyAqui hay un pedazo del articuloSince I don’t follow […]

  2. Well said- I wrote about the same thing – breeding- just today:

    http://dodgyatbest.blogspot.com/2008/05/eight-belles-rip.html

  3. I don’t have a problem with people being upset about it, even though I have my own thoughts about public displays of grief over animals rather than humans, but it’s important to be honest about the reality of the sports that you enjoy.

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