A horse race is a contest in which a group of animals (typically horses) are made to run over a set course and jump a series of obstacles. The first, second and third place finishers receive a certain amount of prize money (depending on the race). A large number of spectators watch the contest as it takes place from grandstands or other viewing locations.
The sport originated in ancient Greece, with riders pulling four-hitched chariots or mounted on barebacks. Racing soon spread throughout the rest of Europe and to the Middle East and Asia. Then, in the 19th century, a series of innovations in breeding, training and riding techniques produced the modern thoroughbred. The breeders developed a small group of elite winners from which the sport drew the best horses, who are called “stars.”
Racing was once a major industry in the United States, but declining interest in the sport and concerns over animal cruelty have reduced its importance in recent years. The industry is trying to improve its image, but it faces a long road ahead.
For many fans, the appeal of a horse race is its beauty and the excitement of betting on it. Bettors cheer a favorite, and some even root for a specific horse by name, such as Seabiscuit. But a lot of people who visit the track are there to make money, and the most successful bettors are those who have a good grasp of the odds on the race they’re watching.
To do so, they must know what a horse is capable of — how fast it can run, how well it’s trained and whether or not it can handle a track or a particular distance. They also need to understand the risks, including injuries, accidents and deaths. A spate of horse deaths in 2019, most notably the 30 at Santa Anita, led to sweeping safety reforms. Now, protocols require a necropsy whenever a racehorse dies on the track and a review of contributing factors by vets, racing officials and stakeholders. California and New York also maintain public databases on equine injuries and fatalities.
A veterinary expert who has worked in horse racing for more than 20 years says that the breeders and trainers push too hard to get horses ready to run at an early age. She notes that many of the horses are not in ideal body condition and do not have fully formed skeletal systems that can withstand the stresses of running at high speeds on hard tracks. Improvements in medical treatment and technology have helped some of the older horses, but young ones continue to die.
Some advocates of horse race journalism argue that describing political events in familiar sports language will attract the attention of voters who are otherwise disinterested in politics. However, critics claim that this kind of coverage trivializes politics and reduces it to a thrilling spectacle that’s less meaningful than a democratic choice between candidates who have different views on issues of substance.