In horse racing, a handicap is a number assigned to a horse in order to give it a fair chance to win. It is set centrally or may be regulated by the track. The purpose of handicapping a race is to make all horses on equal footing and establish a racing form. The classic notion that the best horse should win is rebuked, as horses of different ability have equal odds of winning. As such, handicap races often have a high prize purse, and therefore are highly competitive.
The first documented horse race occurred in 1651, resulting from a wager between two noblemen. Gambling was very common during the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), and he established racing rules by royal decree. He also required that horses have a certificate of origin and added a weight penalty for horses that were imported from abroad. The popularity of horse racing in France led to the creation of the jockey club and standardized racing rules.
The first Thoroughbred race was held in 1752. In Maryland, William Byrd imported Tryal from Spain, and issued a challenge for the horse to win. The wager was 500 Spanish pistoles, a sum at the time that would buy a mansion and a dozen slaves. The event became the first race in American history, and by 1753, it had become a historic event. Its location was important for establishing the sport of racing in the United States.
The Kentucky Derby is a major horse race, and Tasker’s decision to enter Selima sparked passionate debate in Maryland. While the Maryland horse owners felt that their racing was superior to Virginia’s, the attitude of the neighbors was less than flattering. The Maryland-Virginia rivalry had fought over many issues throughout history, including the rights to the Chesapeake Bay, so the entry of Selima in the Kentucky Derby assumed symbolic weight.
Other horse races include the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont Stakes, and the Kentucky Derby. The Derby, for example, was the first race to hold Triple Crowns. It is now the second most important race in the Triple Crown. Its winners were selected based on their ability to win the Belmont Stakes, the Preakness Stakes, and the Kentucky Derby. But these are not the only elite races in the world.
Individual flat races can be anywhere from 440 yards to 2 1/2 miles. Most races are 5-12 furlongs. In the United States, they are known as “sprints” while in Europe, they are known as “routes.” While both types of races are challenging, winning either requires fast acceleration. All three are tests of speed and stamina. The most prestigious flat races are often run over the middle distance. Once a horse reaches this point, it may be ready to step up and compete in steeplechasing.
Although a horse may be too old for a particular race, they do reach their peak ability at around five years of age. As a result, races with horses older than four have become rarer. There are notable exceptions, though. For instance, in the Kentucky Derby, only three-year-old thoroughbreds are allowed to race. The Jersey Act aimed to protect the British Thoroughbred from the influence of North American sprinting blood. Fortunately, the Jersey Act was repealed in 1949.