A horse race is a contest between horses in which the winners receive a prize or purse. The contest may be a single race or a series of races. Historically, the winner-take-all principle predominated, but the development of better horses and more sophisticated techniques prompted the introduction of other categories of races. A major category is the handicap race, in which the weights that competing horses must carry are adjusted on the basis of age and other factors. The youngest horses compete with lighter weights than older ones, and there are also sex allowances (females have lower weights than males).
Horse races are very expensive to run and maintain. Most of the cost comes from the horse feed and veterinary care, although many racetracks also receive substantial revenue from betting on the results of a particular race or an individual horse.
The first racetrack in the United States was built in 1740 in Newport, Rhode Island. The settlers brought horses with them to America, and the sport quickly became popular. The first races were match races between two horses over several four-mile heats. By 1840, there were sixty-three tracks in the South and six in the Northeast.
Most racing is done on dirt, though some on turf and in the snow. The surface of the track can be a factor in the outcome of a race, as it affects how the horses travel and what kind of grip they have on the ground. A muddy track can make it difficult for horses to hold their ground, while a dry one will encourage them to accelerate or slow down.
A thoroughbred horse is a breed of horse developed for racing. The breed includes both male and female horses, with stallions used for breeding and fillies for racing. Some stallions are owned by individuals, while others are owned by large corporations that breed and train the horses they purchase.
In a race, the jockey is on top of the horse and uses his hands or a whip to urge it to speed up. The faster the horse runs, the more money a bettor can win. A horse that is whipped too often can become injured.
A horse is considered to reach its peak ability at the age of five, although some continue racing past that age. The escalating size of race purses and breeding fees has led to fewer races for older horses, but there are exceptions.
Before a race, the horses are given medications, including powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories, designed to reduce the risk of injury. The drugs are administered to keep the horses running even when they might otherwise be too sore to do so. The use of blood doping has thrown off the balance of racing, but the rules and penalties are difficult to enforce. A trainer found guilty of a doping offense in one jurisdiction can easily move to another country. Similarly, it is possible for horses to receive illegal substances that cannot be detected by current testing methods.