What is a Horse Race?

Horse racing is an ancient sport that has evolved into a complex spectacle featuring vast fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and enormous sums of money. But at its heart, it remains a simple contest of speed and stamina between two horses. The winner is the first one to cross the finish line.

The earliest documented horse race took place in 1651, when noblemen placed bets on the outcome of a wager. During the reign of Louis XIV, the practice became a popular form of public entertainment and Louis established rules of the sport that included requiring certificates of origin for horses and imposing extra weight on foreign competitors. Today, horse races are conducted at over 1,000 track locations worldwide and attract millions of spectators.

In addition to betting, a major aspect of the horse race is the racehorse itself. A thoroughbred can be expensive, and a successful career in racing requires significant training and care. Horses are trained to sprint—often under the threat of whips and illegal electric-shocking devices—at speeds that can cause injuries and a painful condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, which causes horses to bleed from their lungs. The horses are then drugged with cocktails of legal and illegal substances to mask the pain and improve their performance.

When a player places a bet on a particular horse, the odds of the horse winning are calculated by the bookmakers. Those odds are then multiplied by the total amount of money wagered on that horse by all bettors, including the winning bettors, to determine the payouts. The betting system is based on parimutuels, which are similar to those used in other sports.

While horse-race coverage has been criticized, it can be an important tool for election handicappers. By providing a window into the closed world of campaign politics, horse-race stories help focus readers’ attention on a candidate’s issues and beliefs and steer them toward a politician most likely to implement those views.

Behind the romanticized facade of horse racing is a dark side of abusive training practices, drug use, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughterhouses. Learn more about the industry by reading PETA’s groundbreaking investigations into training and drug abuse, euthanasia, and the transport of American horses to foreign slaughterhouses. And while you’re at it, consider joining PETA to support their efforts to put an end to horse racing and all animal cruelty.