What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest of speed and stamina between two or more horses, run over varying distances. It is one of the oldest sports in human history and has changed very little over time. It was first documented in ancient Greece, where chariot and mounted (bareback) races were held as part of the Olympic Games. Later, organized racing expanded throughout Europe and Asia. Today, horse races take place all over the world, and betting on them has become a multibillion dollar industry.

The sport is dominated by thoroughbreds, which are breed for speed and power. Races may be sprints, a test of acceleration, or long-distance events, a test of endurance. The latter are generally more challenging, requiring greater stamina and often a turn of foot. Longer races are also known as routes or staying races. Unlike jump racing, which uses hurdles and fences, flat races are conducted on tracks made up of grass or paved surfaces such as asphalt and concrete.

Before a horse race, trainers will start their runners with routine exercise such as slow jogs or gallops in the early morning. As the horse acclimates to the exercise, the trainer will gradually ask the runner for more and more work. These workouts, known as breezes, are a way for the trainer to gauge a runner’s conditioning. Once a runner has been conditioned, it is ready to enter the starting gate and begin the race.

Initially, most races were match races between two or at most three horses, with the owner providing the purse and bettors placing wagers. These agreements were recorded by disinterested third parties, who became the keepers of the match books. One such keeper at Newmarket, John Cheny, began publishing An Historical List of All Matches Run in 1729.

As the popularity of horse racing increased, a wider range of races were created to attract a larger audience. Rules were developed that defined a horse’s eligibility to run, including its age, sex, and birthplace. Different weights were assigned to horses based on their ability, with higher weights given to more successful runners. Eventually, races were created where the owner was the rider, in which only certain types of horses could be entered, and in which races were held in specific towns or counties.

Despite its glamorous façade, the reality of horse racing is full of pain and suffering for the animals. From a veterinary standpoint, horses are prone to chronic injuries and a variety of illnesses and ailments. They are subjected to whips and endure gruesome breakdowns and, when they cannot compete, they are culled or slaughtered. In addition to a range of physical ailments, horses in training are plagued with abnormal and repetitive behaviours that are exacerbated by stress, isolation, and close confinement. These include crib-biting, a repetitive oral behavior, and weaving, which is a stereotypical behaviour where the animal sways on its forelegs as it shifts its weight back and forth.