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What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest in which horses are pushed to the limit and beyond while spectators watch them with an enthralling intensity. The term, first used in the 18th century, can also refer to a close political contest or any competition that involves a strong rivalry. The most common type of horse race is a thoroughbred horse race, in which the winners are determined by a combination of speed, endurance, and stamina. This competition is a popular spectator sport in the United States and many other countries, and it also serves as an excellent training exercise for young horses.

The earliest written manuals on the care, feeding, and training of horses date to about 1500 bc in Asia Minor. A full description of a chariot race appears in Homer’s Iliad from about the 9th or 8th century bc, and the type of flat horse race known as steeplechase was featured at the Olympic Games in 740 to 650 bc.

As early as 500 bc, people began to organize horse races in order to decide a winner. A race may be a straight race, where the winning horse must win by a certain number of lengths, or it may be a handicap race, in which a number of runners are allowed to start at the same time and are ranked according to their ability. Horses are permitted to run in both types of races and, as a rule, the pedigree of a horse is one of the factors that determines its eligibility to compete.

To be eligible to race, a horse must have a sire (father) and dam who are both purebred members of the same breed. In addition, a horse must be at least three years old to run in a stakes race and four or more to compete in a handicap. A jockey must be licensed to ride a horse in a race and must carry a minimum amount of weight, which is set according to the type of race and the class of the horse.

A steward or patrol judge, aided by a moving picture patrol, supervises the event and watches for rules violations. Upon completion of the race, a steward examines the horse’s finish to determine whether it has won or placed. If a horse has won, the result will be announced and the steward will present a trophy.

The death of Eight Belles at the 2008 Kentucky Derby prompted a reckoning of racing’s integrity. Since then, it is clear that horses routinely die from catastrophic cardiac or leg failure under the exorbitant stress of racing and training. Due to a long-running lack of industry regulation, record keeping, transparency, and willingness, the true number is likely in the thousands.