Horse racing has evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses to a multi-billion dollar global sport that draws massive crowds and huge wagers. Yet its basic concept has remained unchanged. The first horse to cross a finish line wins the race.
The sport’s evolution has incorporated technological innovation, complex electronic monitoring equipment, and immense sums of money, but the fundamentals remain the same. Horses must be bred, trained and cared for to compete, and riders are hired to guide them along the track and over any obstacles, such as hurdles, that may lie in their path. Ultimately, the winning horse’s performance reflects the skill of the jockey and the training of the horse.
Although there are a variety of horse races around the world, the three most prestigious are the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, which comprise the American Triple Crown. These events showcase the talents of the best Thoroughbreds, whose breeding and stud services are worth millions of dollars. Exceptional horses have a lucrative career that can last decades, making millions by running in races and providing stud services to other breeders.
A number of factors can affect the outcome of a race, including the weather, the condition of the track and the quality of the competing horses. The race distances can also be a factor; shorter races are generally known as sprints, while longer events are referred to as routes or staying races. Historically, the sport of horse racing has emphasized speed over stamina; however, after the Civil War, racetracks started to emphasize length of stay.
Before a race begins, competing horses are positioned in their own individual stalls or behind a starting gate. Once a signal is given, the gate opens and the horse race starts. Each horse must complete the entire course, which can involve a number of turns and obstacles, to win. During the race, a jockey will guide his or her mount over these obstacles while maintaining control of the horse.
In addition to speed, the ability of a horse to carry weight during a race is important in determining its chances of victory. In handicapped races, the amount of weight a horse must carry is adjusted according to the age of the animal (a two-year old has less weight than a three year old). There are sex allowances as well, which allow fillies to race with lighter weights than males.
Other important aspects of horse race include the scoring system and post position. Unlike most other sports, there is no point system; instead, the winner is determined by which horse crosses the finish line first. The order of the top three finishers is also important for determining certain awards, such as the Eclipse Award for outstanding achievement in Thoroughbred racing.
Aside from its economic importance, the breeding and racing of horses is an emotive subject for many people. Despite this, horse racing aficionados often blow off the concerns of animal rights activists, ignoring the fact that their sport is based on an unsustainable model. Changing this requires a profound ideological reckoning at the macro business and industry levels that prioritizes horses at every decision making stage—from breeding to aftercare.