The Basics of Horse Racing
Horse racing is a popular sport with an ancient heritage, dating back to Greek and Roman chariot races and Bedouin endurance rides in the desert. The practice evolved into modern horse racing in Newmarket, England. Since then, horse racing has spread throughout the world and is today one of the most popular spectator sports in the world. Betting on a race’s winner is an integral part of the event, with bettors placing wagers to win (first place), place (finish first or second), and show (finish first, second, or third). Bettors can also make exotic wagers such as the daily double and the quinella.
The origins of horse racing are obscure, but it was certainly popular in the Middle Ages as well as in Ancient Egypt and Rome. In the 1600s, Britain became a horse racing center, with Newmarket the focal point for breeding and training. In America, organized racing began with the British occupation of New Amsterdam in 1664. Colonel Richard Nicolls established a 2-mile course on Long Island and offered a silver cup to the best horse in spring and fall races. Nicolls’s system was successful, and the race became the benchmark of excellence for Thoroughbred horses in North America. Until the Civil War, stamina was prized over speed, and the American thoroughbred was known for its ability to “go the distance.”
A horse must be at least five years old to be considered a horse and to compete in a race. Younger horses are called colts and fillies. A jockey is a rider who guides a horse in a race by holding on to the animal’s saddle and using the whip. A hand ride is a fairly strenuous workout during which the jockey urges the horse on by running his hands up and down its neck. In general, a hand rider does not use the whip.
Many horse races are handicapped, with the racing secretary assigning weights designed to equalize the winning chances of the entrants. These weights are determined by studying each horse’s previous performance and comparing it to other performances of the same horse. In a handicapped race, the higher the weight assigned to a horse, the more difficult it is to win.
As a result of being pushed beyond their limits, many horses will begin to bleed from the lungs during a race, a condition known as exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. To reduce this risk, the horse will often be given a cocktail of legal and illegal drugs such as Lasix, Salix, or Winstrol.
The most important issue facing the future of horse racing is addressing its lack of an adequately funded industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution for horses leaving the track. Currently, most ex-racehorses hemorrhage into the slaughter pipeline with little more than a Facebook post and a limited window of opportunity to be rescued. Without the tireless efforts of independent nonprofit rescue groups and individuals, most would face horrific endings.