Movie: Racing Stripes
Set in: 2005
Sport: Horse Racing

When a baby zebra is accidentally left behind by a hasty circus cleanup, a former racehorse trainer stumbles across him and brings him back to his farm.  The man’s daughter, Channing (played by Hayden “Save The Cheerleader, Save The World” Panettiere) falls in love with him and instantly gives him the ever-so-clever name of Stripes.  Fast forward 3 years and Stripes, as an adolescent (by zebra standards), has aspirations of becoming a racehorse just as Channing has aspirations of becoming a jockey like her late mother.  Eventually through a series of events, Channing and Stripes are invited to participate in the Kentucky Open, mostly as what the organizer assumes is setting them up to fail.  So that begs a few questions.

Can Stripes Race?
Can a zebra compete in the Kentucky Open?  As one might suspect the answer is no, but not for the reason you’re instantly thinking.  The Kentucky Open, in real life, is actually a golf tournament so, you know, not so much open to zebras.  There is no horse race in Kentucky that goes by the name the film gives it and as such there is no real life event rule set to actually compare against.

That said, we have a unique situation in that the chairman of the board of the Turfway Park racetrack (which is a real racetrack in Kentucky, but I see no evidence that it’s supposed to correlate to the real Turfway Park) has officially extended the offer for the zebra and its teenage jockey to compete.  Discounting the fact that that’s not exactly how a board of any company actually works (no one person has the power to simply will things into happening without the consent of the board), the fact that Stripes is not a horse means the race is no longer treated as a sanctioned race.  In fact, because he’s not a horse he doesn’t even fall under what would be an exhibition race.

Kentucky Administrative Regulations 810 defines an exhibition this way:

Chapter 1: 001 – Definitions
(23) “Exhibition race” means a race between horses of diverse ownership for which a purse is offered by the association, but on which no pari-mutuel wagering is permitted.

In order to have a race sanctioned by the KHRC, a race must fall into one of three categories:

  1. Thoroughbred
  2. Standardbred
  3. Quarterhorse, Appaloosa, and Arabian

Since all 5 of the horse types listed above are in fact specific equine breeds, a zebra would not qualify and Stripes wouldn’t be racing there.  In the film everyone is referring to this Kentucky Open as “The Big Race” which, to me, would mean being sanctioned by the KHRC governing body, but since the film’s only 2 locations are Turfway Park and the neighboring Walsh farm, and it doesn’t even appear to have anything else anywhere near it, it could simply be big in terms of the park itself.  Much like a small town’s annual fair could be called big in terms of the town’s relative size, but not big relative to other town fairs.

So the Answer is…?
Officially the answer is yes, but the race would be for nothing but show.  Per the above-mentioned rules, it doesn’t fall under a sanctioned or exhibition race but that doesn’t mean that a track can’t just race whatever the heck it wants to to give their patrons a good time.  There are camel, ostrich, even wiener dog races (and probably more) but there’s not a single coin involved.  In the film a character named Woodzie places a large sum of money on Stripes.  And in typical family film fashion, Stripes of course comes in first place netting Woodzie a pretty good sum of money.  But as it turns out, if the track actually allowed betting on that race they would be in violation of various rules and subject to penalties.

Solids or Stripes?
How would a zebra actually do against a thoroughbred horse like the ones against which Stripes competes?  From what I could find, it could actually have a fairly decent shot.  While both obviously differ physically in a lot of ways, they are both from the family Equidae and both from the genus Equus.  Thoroughbreds are of course bred and trained to race, but the type of zebra that Stripes is (we assume a Plains Zebra though it’s never specifically stated) lives in fear of being hunted on the open plains of Africa.  They’ve adapted to the speed needed to escape hunters like lions and hyenas.  They’re certainly not slow animals.

From what I found, zebras have an average running speed of 40 MPH however horses seem to have that speed with a rider and have a much longer history of domestication, breeding and training for racing (and I say “longer” because this domestication has been attempted but the zebra’s natural flight inclinations leave it skittish and hard to control).  The big difference is that the highest speed estimated by a racehorse was Secretariat at 55 MPH and that was with a jockey on his back.  The speeds I found didn’t seem to specifically say whether the thoroughbred’s average was with or sans rider, but clearly they’re just as fast with a rider on their back.  I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that a really fast zebra could compete with a thoroughbred, but it might have to be an exceptionally fast one.

Wherein the Horse and Jockey are Jerks
Because of the rivalry with Stripes and the son of the champion thoroughbred, Trenton’s Pride, there is obvious tension and unsurprisingly during the final race, Trenton’s Pride tries to ram Stripes into the rails.  What was more surprising was one point during that race where Trenton’s Pride’s jockey actually reaches over and smacks Stripes with his riding crop.  Even removing the anthropomorphic aspect of having horses that talk and understand one another, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the rider to control the horse so the jockey would actually be the one to bare the brunt of what happened in both cases.  And we have rules for that.

As far as hitting another rider, again Kentucky Administrative Regulations 810 covers both issues:

Chapter 1: 016 – Running of the Race
Section 12.  Fouls. A leading horse if clear is entitled to any part of the track. If a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey, or to cause the same result, this action shall be deemed a foul. If a jockey strikes another horse or jockey, it is a foul. If in the opinion of the stewards a foul alters the finish of a race, an offending horse may be disqualified by the stewards.

The following item in the document expands on that:

Chapter 1: 016 – Running of the Race
Section 13.  Stewards to Determine Foul Riding. A jockey shall make his best effort to control and guide his mount in such a way as not to cause a foul. The stewards shall take cognizance of riding which results in a foul, irrespective of whether an objection is lodged. If in the opinion of the stewards a foul is committed as a result of a jockey not making his best effort to control and guide his mount to avoid a foul, whether intentionally or through carelessness or incompetence, the jockey may be penalized at the discretion of the stewards.

In all likelihood the stewards would see what happened and administer a foul or disqualify them from the race altogether.