A horse race is a competition of speed and stamina between two or more horses, with the winner being the first to cross the finish line. The sport has evolved from a primitive contest between the fastest animals to a modern spectacle involving immense fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and huge sums of money. Critics often criticize the sport for its cruelty to horses, but there are many who feel that horse racing is an essential part of human culture, and that the sport needs reform but should not be abolished.
A runner is a race horse that has been trained to run in a controlled manner, and to follow the lead of the jockey who rides it. In some races, the horses carry a set weight for fairness; this is called handicapping. The goal is to render all horses in a race as close to equal as possible by assigning weights based on age, distance, sex, and birthplace. These weights are assigned centrally in countries where it is so controlled, or by individual tracks.
Flat race distances range from 440 yards to more than four miles (6.4 km). Short races are known as sprints in the United States, and long-distance races as routes or staying races in Europe. The ability to accelerate quickly is essential for a sprint winner, while speed and stamina are critical to winning a route or stayer.
All horses competing in a horse race must be purebred and have both their sire and dam (father and mother) be purebred members of the same breed. This requirement ensures that the horses are bred to have physical and mental strengths appropriate for the race in which they are entered, and reduces the chance of a catastrophic injury such as broken legs or hocks. In addition, the physical demands of racing can be extremely dangerous to the horses and their riders, known as jockeys. The frequent falls and high speeds expose the animals to a variety of injuries, and they are often forced to race before they are fully mature, putting them at risk of developmental disorders such as cracked leg bones and hooves.
Betting on a horse race is a common pastime for many attendees, and there are a number of different ways to bet on the outcome of a race. The most common methods include betting to win, bet to place, and bet to show. Betting to win means that the bettor is wagering that their horse will finish first, while betting to place involves placing money on a horse to finish second or third. Bet to show bets pay out a greater percentage of the total pool than either win or place bets, but the amount paid varies depending on the size of the field.
The Palio di Siena is a famous horse race held twice each year in the city of Siena, Italy. The horse and rider represent one of seventeen Contrade, or city wards, in a spectacular pageant that draws crowds from around the world. The race is a great test of the courage and skill of both the horses and their jockeys, and it has become a symbol of Italian culture.