A horse race is a contest in which horses are ridden and guided by jockeys over an established course, including jumps (if present). The most common types of horse races are flat or hurdle events. These are run over a course of two to four turns and may be contested over short distances such as a mile or over longer courses, such as six miles.
Horse racing is a popular sport in many countries around the world. It is regulated by governments and is conducted under strict rules. The sport’s history dates back to ancient times, and archeological records indicate that it has been practiced in Greece, Rome, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. It has also played an important role in myth and legend, as in the chariot race in Homer’s Iliad or the contest between Odin’s and Hrungnir’s steeds in Norse mythology.
In modern times, horse racing is primarily a commercial activity, and speed has become the most important factor for winning a race. Stamina, however, remains important. Horses are trained to race at an early age, often when their skeletal systems have not fully matured. The risk of injury is high, and one study found that on average, three thoroughbreds die each day from catastrophic injuries suffered during races.
To participate in a horse race, a horse must have a pedigree and meet certain criteria. A pedigree refers to a horse’s lineage, and to be eligible for a race, the horse’s sire and dam must both be purebred individuals of whatever breed is being raced. The horse must also be at least three years old and must be of a breed that is bred for racing, such as Thoroughbreds or Quarter Horses.
Before a horse can race, it must be saddled and paraded to the paddock by its trainers, who must show that the horse meets all of the necessary requirements. The horse is then given a race number and weighed by an official. After being weighed, the horse is then allowed to begin the race. A race is not considered a full race unless all of the horses in the field have finished the contest.
The course length of a race depends on the customs and tradition of the country in which it is being held. A race that follows the British system is usually over a 2-mile (3.2-km) course, while American races tend to be shorter. Generally, races are divided into win, place, and show categories. Bets on the first place winner pay out the most money, while bets on the second or third-place finisher receive smaller payoffs.
Although recent improvements have been made in horse welfare, animal rights groups continue to pressure the racing industry to make further changes. Horses are still subjected to intense physical stress, and the vast majority of them are drugged with cocktails of legal and illegal substances to mask injuries and enhance performance. In addition, thousands of horses are killed each year as a result of catastrophic injuries.