The Basics of a Horse Race
Horse racing is one of the oldest sports and has evolved over the centuries from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses to a multimillion dollar sport with sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, vast fields of runners and immense sums of money at stake. Its basic concept, however, remains unchanged: the first horse to cross the finish line wins the race.
The earliest races were match contests between two or at most three horses. Pressure from the public eventually produced events with larger fields, and as dash, or one-heat, racing became the rule, the rider’s skill and judgment in coaxing a few feet of advantage over his rivals became critical to winning a race.
In the United States, the majority of races are flat races over a distance that ranges from 1/12 to 21/2 miles (2.4 to 6.4 kilometers). The steeplechase, which involves jumping over obstacles, is the most arduous and dangerous form of racing, and is believed to have been developed at least as early as the 5th century bc.
During a race, the course is marked by flags and painted on the track with lines. The length of the race varies with the customs of the country, and the racers compete for purses based on how fast they can run in a given period of time. The most prestigious races are designated as Graded and carry higher stakes, reflecting the importance of the event.
In many countries, racetracks are fenced in to prevent the escape of loose horses and other wildlife. The simplest fences consist of poles with gaps, but in modern times a more complicated design is often used, including fences with wire mesh and padded railings. The poles are generally set in a concrete base that is surrounded by earth, and the railings are usually made of wood or steel.
A thoroughbred is a large mature horse bred for racing purposes. These animals are renowned for their speed and stamina, which allows them to race through age 10. Most are purebreds, but racing also takes place on a number of non-purebred tracks with races designated for quarter-horses, half-breds and other breeds.
When a horse enters the starting gate, it must be prepared for the race, and be ridden by a jockey, or “jockey agent.” Bettors look at the horse’s coat in the walking ring to see whether its color is bright and rippling with excitement. A well-ridden horse that runs with a smooth rhythm and a clear head is considered to have the Look of Eagles.
Some people criticize the practice of horse racing, claiming that it is inhumane and corrupt because of doping, overbreeding and abuse. Others believe that, despite the industry’s problems, racing is still an exciting and worthwhile pastime. If you are interested in learning more about the sport, visit PETA’s website to read its investigations of abusive training practices for young horses, drug use and the transport of countless American racehorses to foreign slaughterhouses.