Horse racing is a sport in which humans race thoroughbred horses over varying distances. Races over two miles (6.4 km) are known as marathon races and are often regarded as the most prestigious. They are a key component of the American and British Triple Crown series of elite horse racing events.
The sport has a rich history dating back to ancient civilizations in Greece, Rome, Babylon, Syria and Egypt. In modern times, it is the third most popular spectator sport behind soccer and baseball, with over 200 million people visiting racetracks each year in the United States alone. In addition to its cultural significance, horse racing has become an important source of entertainment and betting revenue, with the sport’s major races earning billions of dollars in purse money every year.
During a race, horses are subjected to immense physical and emotional stress as they are forced to sprint—often while being whipped with whips that can be up to 15 feet long—at speeds so fast they often sustain injuries or hemorrhage from their lungs. Many of these horses—fittingly named “bleeders” by the industry—are then doused with a cocktail of legal and illegal drugs designed to mask their injuries and enhance their performance.
As the demand for horses has increased along with the size of purses and breeding fees, many owners have turned to artificial insemination and high-stakes races as ways to maximize profits. The resulting increase in the number of horses is also contributing to the rising number of horse deaths on the track and in the aftercare system.
Races are usually run on a dirt surface, though grass racing surfaces are also used in some countries. Individual flat races can range in length from 440 yards (396 m) to four miles (6.4 km). Shorter races are called sprints and longer ones are referred to as routes or staying races. A sprint is considered a test of speed, while a longer race tests the horse’s stamina.
A horse’s speed can be determined by the type of race, track conditions, weight carried, age and gender, jockey, training, and health. In handicap races, each horse is assigned a weight to carry based on its ability. This handicap is adjusted for the inside barrier position, sex allowances for female horses competing against males, and other factors.
A horse’s potential can be assessed by the trainer and owner to determine whether it will be a contender for a race win. The trainer is also responsible for preparing the horse for races by determining which races are best suited to the horse’s abilities. A horse’s condition is often impacted by its training and diet. The trainer is also responsible for a horse’s appearance and demeanor. The appearance of a horse in the paddock, the starting gate, and in the post parade is important as it is one of the first things to be seen by spectators and media. The way the horse is handled by handlers and other personnel also impacts its performance on the racetrack.