A horse race is a competitive sprint, often held in the open air at a horse racing track. The horses run in groups, or fields, and are led by a jockey on his or her mount. The goal is to finish the race first, usually by several lengths over other competitors. The winning horse is praised and awarded with ribbons and cash prizes.
The sport of horse racing is a lucrative enterprise and many people enjoy betting on the outcome of races. However, there is a darker side to the industry that is hidden from spectators. Behind the romanticized facade of horse racing is a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter. This reality is a constant source of discontent amongst animal rights advocates and the general public. Yet despite the growing awareness of these issues, most racing fans and gamblers continue to support the industry in the hopes that it will change for the better.
In a race, each horse competes against other runners for a fixed prize, known as the ‘pot’. This pot is made up of the stakes placed by bettors. The odds for each horse are listed on the racecard and in newspapers. The horse with the shortest odds is considered ‘the favourite’, and its chances of winning are highest.
All horses must be ‘declared to run’ for a race, and this usually takes place the day before the race. A trainer must also declare the jockey who will ride the horse and whether it will carry any equipment, such as blinkers. The final field of horses is then published (known as the ‘overnight declarations’) in newspapers and on racecards at the racecourse.
During a race, horses are forced to accelerate from a standing start, over a distance of up to two miles. This forces them to expend a lot of energy and can result in serious injuries, such as broken legs, laminitis, or even fatal heart attacks. This is why it is important to race only healthy horses, and not ones with injury or illness.
Horse races are generally handicapped, meaning that the weights a horse must carry during the race are adjusted according to its age and experience. For example, a two-year-old carries less weight than an older horse, and fillies are given a sex allowance so that they compete on more of a level playing field with males.
The most elite races in the world are referred to as ‘Classics’, and they include the Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes, and Kentucky Derby in America, and the 2,000 Guineas, 1,000 Oaks, and St Leger in Britain. Many other countries have their own versions of Classic races. The most famous of these are often called ‘The Triple Crown’. Sadly, these events rarely lead to any significant change for the better in the way that racehorses are treated within the industry. The lives of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit, both of whom died while competing in the Kentucky Derby, show us that there will never be a moment when the best interests of racing’s horses will become the driving force behind the industry’s business model.