What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest of speed and stamina in which the winner is declared when a horse crosses the finish line first. Throughout the centuries, the basic concept has endured virtually unchanged as horse racing has evolved from a primitive diversion into an elaborate public entertainment business with huge sums at stake and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment. Whether you’re an avid gambler or just curious, it’s worth learning more about horse racing’s long history and its many intriguing traditions.

In the early days of the sport, races were often winner-take-all; however, as the racing industry developed and purse money became more common, a second prize came to be offered. In addition, horses were often handicapped in relation to their age and gender. For example, a two-year-old must carry more weight than a three-year-old during a race and fillies typically compete with lighter weights than males. Occasionally, a race may be sponsored by a commercial company and these races are usually given a higher percentage of the total purse than non-sponsored events.

One of the most famous horse races in the world is the Kentucky Derby, a two-mile race that’s run every May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The Derby is a Grade I race, meaning it’s one of the most important races of the year for Thoroughbreds and is rated by a panel of experts from the American Horse Council as having the highest level of integrity. It also is considered one of the most exciting races in the world and is a major event for horse lovers.

The earliest records of horse racing can be traced back to the Olympic Games in Greece between 700 and 40 B.C. There, both four-hitch chariot and mounted (bareback) racing were held as a popular form of public entertainment. Eventually, organized racing spread to other ancient civilizations such as China, Persia, Arabia and North Africa where horsemanship was highly developed.

Today, horse races are conducted around the globe. The majority are sponsored by the gambling industry and the purses are enormous, with some of the richest races offering millions of dollars in winnings. The governing body of the sport is the Jockey Club in New York City.

While some governance observers are skeptical of the horse race approach for choosing a successor, proponents say that an overt competition among several recognized candidates in a limited time frame can be an effective way to select a strong CEO candidate. In addition, a well-run horse race can signal that a company is committed to a robust leadership development process in which future stars are identified and groomed through a succession of challenging roles.

However, when journalists cover an election by framing it as a horse race and only reporting on polls and the fortunes of frontrunners—a practice known as “horse race coverage”—voters, candidates and news organizations suffer, according to a growing body of research. Researchers Johanna Dunaway and Regina G. Lawrence, for instance, studied newspaper coverage of state and federal elections in 2004 and 2005 and found that news stories that emphasize a horse race are more likely to be published in newspapers owned by large chains or corporations.