A horse race is a contest of speed and stamina between two or more horses. It is one of the oldest sports, and the basic concept has remained largely unchanged over the centuries. Today, it involves large fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment and huge sums of money. However, despite its immense commercial success and popularity worldwide, it is still a dangerous sport, with hundreds of horses killed on and off the track each year. The root cause of these deaths can range from the natural to the exploitative, including being overworked and drugged in a desperate quest for winnings.
To win a horse race, a competitor must have the fastest and most agile horse. A variety of breeds may be used, although the most common are Thoroughbreds. The most important aspect of a horse race is the jockey, who rides the horse and helps it to run faster. Jockeys use whips to encourage the horse to move forward, but there are rules that limit how often and where they can do so in order to minimize injury.
Before a horse race begins, the horses are positioned in stalls or behind starting gates. When the gate opens, the horses begin to run and the race is officially underway. During the course of a horse race, competitors must pass each other and any hurdles or fences along the way. The horses that are able to pass each obstacle in the fastest time are declared winners.
While the number of fatal injuries in horse races remains high, some argue that the sport is safer now than it has ever been. Defenders point to falling annual death counts collected by The Jockey Club and to improved safety measures at racetracks.
During the early years of horse racing, the races were match races between two or more horses, with the owners providing the purse and taking a bet against any of the other horses that ran in the race. The matches were recorded by disinterested third parties, who came to be known as keepers of the match books. By the end of the 17th century, these records had consolidated into a comprehensive publication called An Historical List of All the Matches Run (1729).
In modern times, horse races are held in many different countries and have become increasingly complex, with each country establishing its own set of regulations. There are also many different types of races, with distances ranging from short sprints to four miles (6 km). A race over two and a half miles is commonly referred to as a marathon. Some races are handicapped, with the racing secretary assigning weight allowances to entrants based on their previous performance records. These are called ‘conditions races’ and offer the largest purses. A horse that wins a condition race is said to be “in the money.” A female horse that wins a condition race is considered a filly. A horse that is only ridden by a jockey who uses the hand ride technique, rather than a whip, is said to be handily ridden.