Kevin Chong on 'the sport of kings'

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First aired on NXNW (29/3/12)


Horse-racing has been in the news a lot lately, thanks to the controversial cancellation of the HBO drama Luck. The television series gave viewers an inside look at "the sport of kings," but was cancelled before the first season completed production. Not because the show had low ratings, but because three horses had died during filming. For those still eager to go inside the racetrack, there's another option for you. Vancouver author Kevin Chong was once a racehorse owner, and he chronicles this experience in his latest book, My Year of the Racehorse: Falling in Love with the Sport of Kings.

Chong grew up spending time at the track with his friends and was always fascinated by the horse-racing world. However, it wasn't until he was much older that he found himself on the other side of the bleachers. When Chong was shopping for a condo and realized all he could afford would be "at least somewhat dumpy," Chong decided to pass. But he wanted to buy something significant that symbolized his adulthood. "I thought a status object like a horse would do the trick."

He also thought such a purchase would satisfy his childhood dream. "I realized that if I owned a horse, I'd get to hang out with trainers and jockeys and grooms and hot walkers," Chong admitted to NXNW host Sheryl MacKay in a recent interview. And he wasn't disappointed. "They proved to be as interesting as I thought they would be."


Chong quickly fell in love with the horse-racing world. While his role was little more than "living vicariously through the horse's accomplishments," he began to savour his time spent at the track and in the barn. While he was initially nervous about being around an unfamiliar 1,200 pound animal, this nervousness quickly disappeared as he spent more time in the stable. "As I spent more time there, they became animals I really, really enjoyed being around." In fact, he began to crave the smell of a horse. "They have a very clean, addictive aroma." 

Chong realizes that horse-racing is not without controversy, and the conversation surrounding Luck is just the latest in a long line of questions about horse racing and animal cruelty. But after spending a year on the ground, Chong doesn't see what all the fuss is about.

"I find that people who do want the sport abolished, they don't understand the sport. They don't understand the tradition. They don't understand that if you were ban horse-racing right now that all these horses would be slaughtered instantly," he said. "[They] haven't been to the track. They haven't been to the stables and seen how these horses are loved and cared for."

Chong is the first to admit that the sport isn't easy on the animals. It's a physically demanding activity, but Chong believes "it can be argued very convincingly that horses have a desire to run." Horses get caught up in the race and, like any athlete, can have breakdowns on the field. "It's part of what makes it interesting."

Horse racing can do more to protect the animals involved, Chong admits, and Luck is a great example of why this is important. "I'm all for making the sport better for the animals," he said. "But I don't think anything would be accomplished by abolishing it all together."

Image of Kevin Chong by Michelle Furbacher