What is a Horse Race?
Horse racing is a sport in which humans perched on horses compel the animals to race each other — sometimes at breakneck speed. In the course of this contest, a great many horses are hurt, and some die. The sport is a cruel enterprise, one that exploits horses for money. But despite its deep-rooted masculinist culture, more and more female jockeys are taking to the saddles, and that is helping to change the sport’s image.
In a typical race, a group of horses is set loose on a course and is given a specific amount of time to cover the distance. The first, second and third finishers receive a certain amount of prize money. Some races also include obstacles to jump, such as gates or fences. The animals are guided by jockeys, who use a whip to spur them on and steer them around corners. The winning horses have the fastest times or cover the farthest distance.
The origins of organized racing are not well understood, but horsemanship has been a highly developed skill in several ancient civilizations, including Ancient Greece and Rome. Four-hitch chariot and mounted races were prominent events in the Olympic Games between 700 and 40 bce, and there was also organized competition involving a single rider on his or her own steed.
The modern horse race is a sport characterized by enormous stakes and largely controlled by gambling. It’s also a dangerous game for the animals, which are drugged, whipped and pushed to their limits. Animal rights groups such as PETA estimate that ten thousand American thoroughbreds die each year, most of them in slaughterhouses.
A race takes place on a dirt track or a synthetic one, often with spectators watching from grandstands. There are also television and radio coverage of the event, as well as betting through books, telephones and online.
Until the Civil War, organized racing in North America focused on stamina rather than speed, which is the hallmark of today’s Thoroughbred. However, with the advent of the Civil War and the expansion of the country, speed became a major factor in the popularity of horse racing in America.
In the United States, a horse must be at least three years old to compete in a thoroughbred race. In addition to age, racehorses are handicapped based on their performance in previous races and their physical condition. The younger a horse is, the less weight it must carry during a race. Typically, fillies carry lighter weights than males.
The day of the Palio di Siena, a horse race held twice each summer in the city of Siena, Italy, began with the parade of seventeen Contrade, or city wards, followed by a spectacle involving dozens of musicians and thousands of costumed partisans. But the 80,000 gathered in the Piazzale Michelangelo were all there to see the race, in which the winning horse and jockey represent a particular Contrade. The horses were all injected that morning with Lasix, a diuretic that reduces pulmonary bleeding from hard running.