Mackenzie Cooley.

For Derby Day, a Note of Caution About Horses and ‘Races,’” by Assistant Professor of History Mackenzie Cooley, was published by the History News Network in advance of May’s Kentucky Derby.

The op-ed focused on the beginning of horse racing’s “best in breed” thinking during the Renaissance. “Pursuing the best, most perfectly bred animal is not a new concept. It has its roots in the Renaissance, another heyday for horse racing, and contributed to the evolution of the idea of race,” she wrote.

“Owners, breeders, and trainers all referred to the horses they raised as ‘razze dei cavalli,’ Cooley noted, explaining that “the modern English term ‘race’ … began with a meaning akin to our word ‘breed.’ In the Renaissance, ‘race’ meant a stock (as in livestock), or a population that had been carefully bred.” 

Europeans brought the new term “race” to the Americas, and it was applied to both humans and animals, she said. “In these hierarchal, colonial systems, it became a term to denote fixed, physical differences in humans rather than temporary reproductive work of breeding in animals.”

Cooley’s hope is that on June 10, as viewers watch the Belmont Stakes, they might consider her concluding comment. “By admiring their rippling coats and eye-popping speed, we are celebrating animals that have been crafted with human intervention to attain quasi-eugenic ideals.”

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