What is a Horse Race?

horse race

A horse race is a contest of speed among horses that either are ridden by jockeys or pulled by drivers in sulkies. The race begins when a jockey mounts his or her horse and the starter drops the starting rope. The horses then begin running and can finish within a hair’s breadth of each other.

There is a dark side to horse racing. Behind the romance of fancy outfits, mint juleps and roaring crowds is a world of broken bones, drugs, breakdowns and slaughter. The animals are forced to run at speeds so great that they can easily sustain injuries and even hemorrhage from their lungs. They are subjected to harsh training practices and whipped with whips that can injure or kill them. Then, when they’re done racing, many of these beautiful creatures are sent to be killed at foreign slaughterhouses.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when horse races were first established. The sport was likely introduced in ancient Greece around 700 to 40 B.C., and the ancient Greeks competed in four-hitched chariot races and mounted bareback races. The early Greeks were also fascinated with jumping over obstacles, and this aspect of the sport would later be incorporated into jousting.

When settlers brought horses to America, they continued horse racing, which in those days was usually a match race between two horses over several four-mile heats. The earliest organized racetracks were laid out in 1664. Once Thoroughbred breeding came to the United States, it was based on British models. Until the Civil War, stamina was a mark of excellence in American racing, but speed became more important after the war.

A variety of factors can affect the outcome of a horse race, including sex, age, track conditions and training. A horse must have a pedigree that is pure for the breed in order to participate in most races. The race secretary assigns a weight allowance based on past purse earnings and the type of horse in question.

In the earliest races, owners provided the purse, which was a simple wager. When an owner withdrew, he or she forfeited half the purse. This practice eventually evolved into a formalized agreement between the owners of competing horses, recorded by disinterested third parties called keepers of the match books.

The for-profit business of horse racing has long been a source of profits for the industry and its investors, but it is facing growing opposition from animal advocates. As more people become aware of the cruelty inherent in the business, it is likely that the popularity of the sport will wane. If that does happen, it is imperative that racing address the issues of its use of performance-enhancing drugs and its inhumane treatment of horses. Otherwise, the future of the sport may look more like Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keepthename and Creative Plan—and thousands of other racehorses.