Horse races attract tens of thousands of fans and millions of viewers. They are often referred to as the greatest spectacle in sport. But what makes a race truly great? It depends on many things, including the setting, the background and the context. Some of the greatest races involve the biggest names in the sport. For example, Arkle and Mill House, both seemingly invincible at different times in their careers, battled it out in 1964 at Aintree. Others – such as Grundy versus Bustino in 1745 – was a clash of generations that had critics hailing it as the best Flat race they had ever seen.
The sport is a multi-billion dollar industry composed of owners, for both breeding and racing; trainers, who prepare the horses to race; jockeys, who ride them; and track owners, who own and operate the tracks. It is also a major employer with many high-paying jobs – for example, trainers, grooms and stable hands. The public also has an interest in the sport, with spectators who are attracted by the excitement of the event and the chance to meet and watch their favourite horses.
There are a wide range of horse races in the world, from the classics of Europe to the iconic American Triple Crown events. Some of these are held on the most prestigious venues and offer the highest prize money. These include the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Breeders Cup Classic. In addition, there are several major international horse races, such as the Dubai World Cup and Royal Ascot.
Historically, the majority of races were match races between two horses, with their owners providing the purse for a wager. Typically, if the owner withdrew, they would forfeit half or even all of the prize money. In the earliest days of the sport, these agreements were recorded by disinterested third parties, who came to be known as keepers of the match books.
As the game became more professional, match racing was replaced by handicapped racing based on weight and rules for eligibility, such as age, sex and birthplace. In the United States, this led to a rise in popularity of thoroughbred flat racing and the development of the standard distances that are still used today: sprints are shorter than middle-distance races and are generally considered to be tests of speed and acceleration. Middle-distance races are known as routes in the US and as’staying races’ in Europe and are usually considered to be tests of stamina.
Is horse racing cruel or immoral? Intriguingly, the answer is a little bit of both. The cruelty comes from the fact that these animals are bred and raised to be racehorses, but are not always suitable for that career. They are then often disposed of once they retire and have finished their racing/breeding careers. Nevertheless, the majority of the horses that race are well-cared for and loved during their entire lives. This is certainly better than the fate of other equine species.