A horse race is a contest over a distance on a racetrack between one or more horses. The winner is determined by the first horse to cross the finish line, or the closest runner-up. Runner-ups may be awarded a lesser prize, or even none at all. The earliest races were match contests between two or at most three horses. The owners provided the purse, and bettors would place a wager on which horse they thought would win. Owners who withdrew commonly forfeited half the purse, and this practice became known as “play or pay.” The agreement was recorded by disinterested parties who came to be called keepers of the match book.
The modern Thoroughbred is bred specifically for racing. It is considered the most powerful and versatile breed of horse, with the ability to jump and run fast over long distances. Its origins are unclear, but the ancestors likely come from stocks of Barb and Arab horses imported to England in the 17th century. The racetrack has become the center of thoroughbred culture, with events such as the Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes, and Kentucky Derby attracting visitors from all over the world.
Hundreds of thousands of races are held around the world each year. The most famous are the Triple Crown series, consisting of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. Many of the most famous races are sponsored by prominent people, such as politicians, celebrities, and businesses. Others are well-known because they are part of a series, such as the Breeders’ Cup.
Before a race begins, horses are paraded through the paddock, where they receive instructions from their trainers. Once they are saddled, jockeys (or riders) mount them and race them around the track.
A race is won by the first horse to cross the finish line, which is marked at each end by a flag or a flagpole. Those that finish closest to the winning time are awarded prizes, or a portion of the total money wagered by bettors, less a percentage taken out by the track.
During the race, stewards and patrol judges, aided by a motion-picture camera, look for any violations of the rules. After the race is completed, a photograph of the finish is developed to determine the official results.
Despite efforts by the industry to improve racing conditions for horses, the sport continues to be plagued with problems. Horses are frequently pushed beyond their limits, and many will bleed from their lungs after running so hard and so quickly. They are also often given cocktails of legal and illegal drugs intended to mask injuries, artificially enhance performance, or both. And, perhaps the most disturbing of all, they are often forced to race before their skeletal systems are fully developed. This can lead to severe injury, especially if they break down or lose their footing while racing. In addition, horses are transported from country to country and racetrack to racetrack by truck or plane, so that few can develop any kind of bond with a single person or place.