Horse racing is an incredibly popular sport nowadays, and it was arguably even more popular back in its early days. However, popularity often goes hand-in-hand with controversy and notoriety. Up next, we’re going to explore some of the most controversial horse races of all time, events that changed the face of horse racing forever. Fortunately, it’s clear that we’ve come a long way when it comes to treating our horses, particularly those that are being bred and trained to take part in horse racing, which is why many of these events only happened once. Lessons learned and all that.
The 1844 “Great Match” race between the horses “Fashion” and “Boston” in the United States was marred by accusations of bribery and cheating on the part of the owners and riders of “Fashion”. This race was considered to be the most important horse race of its time, and it was held in a racecourse in New York City. The race was run over four miles, with a purse of $20,000, and it was the first race to be run under the “American Rule” (where the winner takes all), as opposed to the “English Rule” (where the purse is divided among the top finishers). The race was won by “Fashion” in a time of 7:09:25, but there were allegations that the owners of “Fashion” had bribed the jockey of “Boston” to throw the race. The controversy surrounding the event damaged the reputation of horse racing in the United States for years to come, and it led to a decline in the popularity of horse racing in the country.
The 1877 “Dead Heat” race between the horses “Ratha” and “Don Juan” in the United States, which ended in a tie and led to a contentious dispute over the winner. This race was held at the Fleetwood Park racecourse in New York, and it was run over a distance of one mile. Both horses were declared co-champions, but there was a dispute over the split of the purse, and the controversy surrounding the race led to changes in the rules for determining the winner of a race in the future.
The 1902 “Race to the Death” between the horses “Ard Patrick” and “Sir Hugo” in the United Kingdom, where both horses collapsed and died during the race due to exhaustion, leading to public outrage and calls for stricter regulations of horse racing. This race was the Ascot Gold Cup, one of the most prestigious horse races in the United Kingdom, and it was run over a distance of two miles and four furlongs. The deaths of both horses during the race led to a public outcry, and it brought attention to the issue of animal welfare in horse racing.
The 1913 “Derby Dope Scandal” in the United Kingdom, where several horses were found to have been given illegal performance-enhancing drugs prior to the prestigious Epsom Derby. This scandal involved several trainers and owners who were found to have given their horses an illegal substance called “bromide”, which was believed to enhance their performance. The scandal led to the disqualification of the winning horse and the suspension of several trainers and riders.
The 1919 “Black Sox Scandal” in the United States, where several members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team were accused of intentionally losing the World Series in exchange for bribes from gamblers. The scandal had a significant impact on the reputation of horse racing, as many of the gamblers involved in the scandal were also heavily involved in horse racing, and it led to a decline in the popularity of the sport.
The 1948 “Cigar vs. Citation” match race in the United States, where the highly-favored horse “Citation” was defeated by the underdog “Cigar”, leading to accusations of race fixing and illegal betting. This match race was held at the Belmont Park racetrack in New York and it was highly publicized and heavily bet on. The defeat of the heavily-favored “Citation” led to accusations of race fixing and illegal betting, but no evidence of wrongdoing was ever found.
The 1968 “Dancer’s Image Disqualification” in the United States, where the winning horse of the Kentucky Derby, “Dancer’s Image”, was found to have been given a banned substance and was disqualified. This controversy occurred after the horse tested positive for phenylbutazone, a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory medication, which was not allowed in the state of Kentucky at the time. The horse’s owners filed a lawsuit and the case went to court for several years, but ultimately the disqualification was upheld and the second-place horse was declared the winner. This incident led to stricter drug testing and regulations in horse racing.
The 1978 “Affirmed vs. Alydar” rivalry in the United States, where the two horses raced against each other multiple times, with “Affirmed” ultimately winning the Triple Crown, but not without accusations of race fixing and illegal betting surrounding their contentious races. This rivalry was one of the most famous in horse racing history, with the two horses competing in several high-profile races including the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes. “Affirmed” ultimately won all three races, but the close finishes and accusations of race fixing and illegal betting marred the achievement.
The 2002 “Barbaro Injury” in the United States, where the Kentucky Derby winner “Barbaro” suffered a severe injury during the Preakness Stakes, leading to a highly publicized and emotional battle to save the horse’s life. “Barbaro” broke his leg during the race and despite efforts to save him, he ultimately had to be euthanized. This incident brought attention to the issue of horse safety in racing and led to calls for improved track conditions and regulations to protect horses.
The 2010 “Jockeys’ Strike” in Hong Kong, where a group of jockeys went on strike to protest low pay and dangerous working conditions. This strike led to the cancellation of several high-profile races and caused significant disruptions to the horse racing industry in the region. The strike highlighted issues with the treatment and working conditions of jockeys in the sport, and it led to calls for better labor protections and safety measures for jockeys.
The 2002 “Godolphin doping scandal” in the United Arab Emirates, where several horses belonging to the famous Godolphin stable were found to have been given banned substances. This scandal caused a huge shock in the racing world and led to international bans for the trainers and jockeys involved, and also led to changes in regulations and testing procedures in the UAE.
The 2013 “All The Aces Scandal” in South Africa, where the champion race horse was found to have been given a prohibited substance prior to a major race. This led to the horse being disqualified, and the trainer and owner faced severe penalties, and it also led to an investigation on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the South African Racing industry.
The 2015 “Fatal fall of Jockey” in Australia, where a jockey died as a result of injuries sustained in a fall during a race. This tragic incident led to a review of safety measures and protocols for jockeys in the country, and it also prompted discussions on the risks and dangers faced by jockeys in the sport. To this day, it represents one of the most controversial horse races of all time.
The 2017 “Hong Kong Jockey Club Scandal” in Hong Kong, where several jockeys were found guilty of race fixing and illegal betting. This scandal caused a major shock in the racing world and led to severe penalties for the jockeys involved and also led to an investigation on the integrity of the sport in the region.
The 2019 “Maximum Security disqualification” in the United States, where the horse that crossed the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby was later disqualified for interference, leading to a historic change in the official winner of the race, and sparked a debate about the fairness and accuracy of the disqualification process. This controversy also brought attention to the issue of horse safety and welfare, as the incident happened on the track.
These were just some of the most controversial horse races that happened around the globe. As with any sport, there will always be incidents, and there will always be controversy. However, when it comes to dealing with such gentle and graceful creatures such as horses, it’s definitely refreshing to know that all of the aforementioned events are behind us.