What is a Horse Race?

horse race

Horse racing is a sport that pits racehorses against each other for the enjoyment of spectators. It is a dangerous, demanding activity and the equine participants are subjected to a variety of physical and emotional stresses. The sport is also plagued by a number of ethical issues.

Most races are contested over a distance of one to three miles (1.6 to 4.8 kilometers). Historically, match contests between two horses were the norm; however, public demand for more exciting races eventually resulted in events that featured multiple competitors and larger fields. Today, most races are held over a mile, with the exception of some classic flat races such as the Prix de lā€™Arc de Triomphe in France, and long-distance jumps races such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup in England.

The most prestigious races are referred to as Group or Graded races and offer the biggest purses. These races are normally run at level weights, although allowances for age and sex (e.g. mares receive a 5lb allowance when competing against male horses) are still applied. Often, the best horses are able to carry more weight than their rivals in these races and are therefore ‘well in’.

Many horses in these top-level races are injected with Lasix prior to a race, and the fact that they have been given this drug is noted on a racing form. The medication is intended to prevent pulmonary bleeding that occurs in hard-running horses and can be life-threatening.

Despite a spate of deaths ā€“ most notably 30 at Santa Anita in 2019 ā€“ the majority of horses that take part in races remain healthy and enjoy great popularity worldwide. This is largely due to advances in technology which have improved the safety of horses on and off the track. Thermal imaging cameras can identify heat stress in horses post-race, MRI scanners and X-rays can pick up on minor or major health problems before they escalate, and 3D printers produce casts, splints and prosthetics for injured or ill horses.

However, a small, feral minority of horsemen and women ā€“ the “smart money” – are engaged in systematic cheating to obtain unfair advantage in their races, and serious reform is required to safeguard the integrity of horse racing for the benefit of all stakeholders. Sadly, the vast majority of horse owners and trainers are far from innocent and do not give their all to protect the integrity of the sport.