What is a Horse Race?

Horse race is an event that involves competing horses running around an oval track. The first horse to have their nose pass over the finish line is considered the winner of the race. Different races have slightly different rules, but the general principle is that horses run as hard as they can throughout the entire length of the race and try to save their energy for the final stretch known as the home straight.

In the era of high-tech sports, few industries have felt the jolt of progress quite like horse racing. While the sport retains many of its centuries-old traditions, advances such as thermal imaging cameras, MRI scanners, and 3D printing have brought new levels of security for horses on and off the track.

Yet despite this technological revolution, one aspect of the sport that remains the same is the routine death of young horses during training and in races. The 2008 deaths of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit were a defining moment for the sport, revealing how the exorbitant physical stress of competition can kill even champions.

A look behind the romanticized façade of Thoroughbred horse racing reveals a world of drugs, injuries, and slaughter. While spectators show off their fancy outfits and sip mint juleps, horses are forced to sprint—often under the threat of whips and illegal electric shockers—at speeds that frequently cause injuries, including hemorrhages in the lungs.

Behind the glitz and glamour of the Triple Crown events, scores of horses are subjected to a lifetime of pain and suffering. Many are injured or ill during the race itself, while others endure the grueling rigors of training and racing. Then, when the race is over, they are shipped to slaughter.

The earliest races were a series of standardized heats for six-year-old horses carrying 168 pounds in four-mile races. By the 1860s, heat races were replaced by a system of match racing wherein horses raced against each other and not against the clock.

Today, the sport has evolved into a global industry with many races taking place across Europe and Asia. Aside from the three races that comprise the American Triple Crown—the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes—most of the world’s nations have established their own series of elite racing competitions. While the sport’s rules vary by country, most follow similar principles and require a trained jockey to mount a horse and help guide it around the track. While horse races may be a form of gambling, the most common wager is made on the winning horse. In the United States, this bet is called a win bet. Bets can be placed online, over the phone or at a racetrack’s betting windows. The odds of a particular horse winning are determined by its starting price and the total number of bets it receives. Depending on the stakes, a bet can pay off big or be a complete loss.