Tradition. Beauty. Elegance. Billing itself “The Sport of Kings,” racing presents its horses, especially the regal Thoroughbreds, as resplendent, pampered athletes proudly displaying their prowess to admiring fans. The horse, they tell us, is born to run, loves to run, with an instinctive will to “compete.” It is well-crafted fantasy, which major media gladly indulges with disproportionate coverage of Triple Crown pageantry, sappy biopics (“Seabiscuit”), and a ridiculous cult of romance surrounding the sport’s “stars”: The revered Secretariat joined two other horses on ESPN’s greatest athletes of the 20th Century and even adorned a postage stamp.
Every once in a while, though, the horse people offer some naked truth. In October 2012, NY’s horsemen, presumably feeling self-satisfied, released the results of a new study (commissioned by them): “BREAKING NEWS: Economic Impact generated by the New York Equine Industry reached $4.2 billion in 2011, yielding roughly 33,000 full-time equivalent jobs.” In a press release, Rick Violette Jr, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said, “The Study shows, in black and white, that every horse in New York is a potent job creator. The horse should be our state animal.”
So, there it is. To the horsemen, the horse is money; indeed, as the press release reminds, “horses are one of the leading agricultural commodities in the state,” with each of NY’s 23,100 racehorses representing “an economic impact of $92,100 on the state’s bottom line.” The horse should be our state animal not because he is a naturally autonomous, sentient creature wonderful at simply being a horse, but rather because he is “a potent job creator,” a valuable “commodity.” Tradition? Beauty? Elegance? Well, forgive the euphemism, just a load of nonessential matter from the horse’s digestive system.