C: Jeff Griffith via Unsplash

In defence of Horse Racing

The first thing I must place on the record in defence of the “sport of kings” is that I abhor cruelty to animals. One of the great joys of “working” (ahem..) from home is that I get to spend pretty much all of my life every day with two aging dogs. The three of us are declining grumpily and anti-socially together.  

The notion that someone might perform some act of unkindness to them, never mind physically harming either one of the resident hounds or any other dog, is unthinkable. So ought I not then to support a ban on horse racing, a demand that has escalated since the death of Hill Sixteen during last Saturday’s English Grand National at Aintree?

No, is the short answer. And here’s some of the why.  Firstly, there are not “thousands” of horses killed in races every year as has been claimed, so let’s have some facts. In 2022, there were, according to industry reports, over 25,000 race horses in training in Ireland and in Britain.  In Britain there were 10,217 races in 2022. In 2021, the races that were run involved 91,287 horses. 202 horses died during races in 2021 which means that just 0.22% of participants died.  

There are over 847,000 horses in Britain and around 120,000 in Ireland. So around 0.04% of those horses die each year during races. While only a small minority of horses are currently involved in racing – there are around 10,000 in training in Ireland and 43,000 registered thoroughbreds – it is accurate to say that very few of those horses would be around were it not for racing. 

Those who do not run are either too young, have retired, are not believed to have any prospects of running, or are in some way the consequence of the horse racing breeding sector. Contrary to some claims, horses not fit for the purposes of racing are not then slaughtered in their thousands.  The average life span of the more that 847,000 horses in Britain is 13, and it is fair to say that horses who are part of the racing sector enjoy lives on a par with those of your domesticated dog or cat, and certainly superior in both quality and life span to the pig whose entrails you eat as part of your Full Ethnic Breakfast.

It is also the case, that if horse racing was banned, just as if owning pets was banned as is another demand of some activists, there would be both the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of horses before their time, and the population of horses would be reduced to tiny numbers. Just the same as would be no dogs other than dogs employed in the security and sheep farming sector if there were no pet dogs. 

Lots of activities involve risk and danger, including the risk of injury and death to humans.  Yesterday, the death was announced of Noel Hanna from Dromore, County Down who died following a successful ascent of Annapurna in the Himalaya mountains.  He was aged 56 and had climbed Mount Everest ten times.  Should mountain climbing be banned? Did he waste his life climbing mountains?  

Last night I watched the Dublin and Meath under 20 footballers. Two players needed to assisted off the field following what looked like serious leg injuries.  Injuries that if confirmed as ACL for example will not only keep the injured player from playing for several months but will impact on every other aspect of his life.  Ought we ban Gaelic football? Or ban physical contact sports in general?

There is also a huge moral fail on the part of some of the most prominent opponents of sports involving animals in Ireland who make no secret of the fact that they support abortion, and indeed a more liberal abortion regime here. That may appear to invoke a conservative version of Godwin’s Law but there is a deep contradiction at work here. One of the intellectual gurus of the animal rights activists is Peter Singer whose views on both matters are a case in point. 

One of the slogans used by the people who organised the protest at Aintree is ‘You Bet, They Die,’ highlighting the fact that organised horse racing is intimately connected to people betting on the outcome. Just as betting in one form or another has been connected with all sports for all time.  The first steeplechase is said to have taken place in 1752 between Buttevant and Doneraile in Cork to settle a wager.

It is what humans do. We take risks and we invest or place money or some other premium including our own lives and well-being and the lives and well-being of other humans and living creatures on the outcome of many things. Is that a bad thing? Perhaps it is, but it is an intimate part of human nature and it always will be. 

The only concerted attempts to erase that aspect of humanity and make us nicer were made under the rule of the ideological predecessors of our #BeKind leftists.  So determined were they to make us nicer people that they murdered tens and tens of millions in the process. And would do so again, given a chance.

In the meantime where they can exercise influence they must be content with eroding those aspects of existence that they abhor. Which is a long list as anyone familiar with them will be aware. Among them is horse racing and one of the Trojan Horses deployed in that battle is the attempt to ban or severely restrict betting. In April 2021, Cork Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould went to the trouble of issuing a press statement calling – or was he demanding? – that people “gamble responsibly.”

Like, what the hell?  What even possesses an elected representative to think that this is remotely part of their business? What next – “TD calls on people to bring their umbrella following yellow weather warning?.”  “Ministers advises people not to have that extra slice of Christmas pudding,?”  “President Michael D. Higgins calls on gardeners to look first before plunging spade into vulnerable worm communities?”

As part of the campaign against betting, the left liberal puritans have managed to force the British authorities into an ongoing review of gambling legislation which the puritans hope will both severely limit how much and how people can bet, and with the long term objective that this will cripple the horse racing sector itself.  As it would.  

Among the proposals are that there ought to be “affordability” checks on how much someone can deposit into their accounts, as well as those that would limit the size and frequency of bets. Some of this has already been implemented by bookmaking firms; cynically some might argue given that as anyone who makes a few Euro from betting knows bookies have always arbitrarily limited or even banned punters who are ignorant of the “bookies always wins” adage.  

One of the rationales for this proposed state interference with what a person does with their own money is that this is part of “helping” people who are unable to win or to stop betting when they lose. A Dublin city councillor gave as his reason for wanting to ban bookies shops that his own brother lost money betting. Seriously,  so we ban pubs because some people cannot control their drinking? Or cake shops because people eat too much cake? Or cars because there are accidents (apart altogether from destroying the planet)?

Or maybe hurling because a lad broke his thumb in the Junior B final, and what is more was so f***ing upset over it that he put his wages on a losing dog in the 6.11 at Romford, spent the rest on a litre bottle of vodka, and went home and ate the whole of the black forest gateaux that his mother had made for her sister coming back from Lourdes. Selfish b***ard.

The subtext of all the nanny statism directed at betting, drinking, eating, etc, etc, is of course the absolute belief on the part of those wishing to tell others how to live their lives that they know better than those they want to do their bidding.  It is also of course no coincidence that most of the nanny staters similarly disapprove of free enterprise, which of course is based fundamentally on risk. 

Not surprisingly, they appear far more sympathetic to Big Corporate Capital which has by and large eliminated risk – or managed to “socialise” any potential risk as we pixie headed bank bailer outers know to our cost – than they are to the man or woman or group of men and women who set up their own business.  Proof of that being the naked hatred deployed against small business people and the self-employed who transgressed against the Covid bans.

So when they want to ban horse racing, it is merely another arrow in their quiver to be aimed at stuff they disapprove of and which they want to stop anyone else enjoying.  Freedom especially, always with the destroying freedom……

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