Horse races are contests between horses that take place on a racetrack. They are one of the oldest sports in human history, and they have evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two animals to a massive global public entertainment enterprise. The basic principle of the sport remains unchanged, although modern technology has introduced new elements to the sport, such as electronic monitoring and sophisticated betting markets.
The horse racing industry is a multi-billion dollar business, and betting on races is commonplace for many attendees. Betting involves placing a wager on which horse will cross the finish line first, and it can also be placed on an accumulator in which multiple bets are combined. The horse racing industry also includes breeding farms, which are places where horses are bred and raised before they are sent to racetracks to compete in races.
A horse must be ‘declared to run’ in order to participate in a race, and this usually takes place the day before the race. The horses that are declared to run comprise the final field for the race and appear on the racecards in newspapers and at the racecourse. Trainers must also ‘declare’ the jockey who will ride each horse and any equipment that will be worn (such as blinkers), and this information also appears on the racecards.
The shortest races on the Flat are ‘five furlongs’, while those over jumps are ‘two miles’. Middle-distance horses run mainly over these distances. A ‘favourite’ is generally a horse that has been allocated the lowest weight to carry and is expected to win the race, though there are exceptions.
Generally speaking, a horse will progress from Flat races to hurdling and then steeplechasing as it gets older. Increasing prize money and rising breeding fees have led to the fact that more horses are competing at an earlier age, but this has not resulted in a decline in quality.
Horses are generally considered to reach their peak ability at five years old, though this can vary considerably from horse to horse. In general, a horse will start National Hunt races as a juvenile, move on to Flat races as a three-year-old and then if it is thought capable, will move on again to hurdling.
A horse is ‘on the rails’ when it runs close to the white plastic rails that mark out the track on a racecourse. Running on the rails helps a horse to keep its stride length and to stay close to competitors in a tight race finish, which can be advantageous to the runner. A horse ‘against the rails’ is generally positioned opposite to the stands rail, which is often referred to as the ‘home’ rail, and a ‘grabbed the rails’ is when a horse has successfully manoeuvred itself into this position. Similarly, a horse that is ‘between the fences’ is closer to the fences than is usual. This can cause a horse to become unsettled early on in a race and use too much energy before finding its rhythm, which may be reflected in its finishing position.