A horse race is a contest in which horses are raced for prize money. The practice dates back to ancient times, and has been an important part of civilizations in many countries around the world, including Greece, Rome, Babylon, Syria, and Arabia. Horses have long been a symbol of power and beauty, as well as an integral part of myth and legend. In modern horse racing, the Triple Crown — the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes – is considered the pinnacle of achievement for Thoroughbred horses.
In addition to betting on which horse will win, fans often place wagers on the finishing order of the runners. A bet on a specific horse to finish in first, second, or third is known as an exacta. An additional wager on the winning horse to win by a certain number of lengths is called a pick three. A bet on the winner of the race is known as a straight bet.
As dash racing became the rule, a few extra yards in a race were crucial, and jockeys developed their skill and judgment in coaxing that advantage from their mounts. As the game evolved, it was not uncommon for spectators to cheer a particular horse by name. Seabiscuit, for example, was a favorite of many hard-core daily bettors who, regardless of whether they had a seat in the grandstand or on their couch at home, would shout out his nickname: “Come on, Number Three!”
The eleven horses lined up for the start of the Santa Anita Handicap, a mile and a quarter dirt race for horses rated at a claiming price of $10,000 or less. Amid the pinkish light of the race track and the swaying of the big stands, the pack broke cleanly from the gate. War of Will, last year’s Preakness champion, took the lead on the far turn. Mongolian Groom and McKinzie were a few lengths behind.
It was a hot day, and the horses were running hard. Most of them had been injected that morning with Lasix, a diuretic that is noted on the racing form with a boldface letter “L.” It is given to thoroughbreds for the purpose of preventing pulmonary bleeding caused by hard running, and it causes horses to unload epic amounts of urine — twenty or thirty pounds worth.
Behind the romanticized facade of horse racing is a dark and ugly reality of drugs, injury, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter. Some critics of the sport argue that it is inhumane and needs major reform, while others assert that it is a wholesome and honorable enterprise for competitors. Whether they like it or not, most people have some emotional connection to horse racing, and, at the very least, enjoy its spectacles. That is why it continues to attract millions of bettors every year despite the controversies and scandals that have marred the industry in recent decades. In a sport that depends on the hearts of its fans, those who care about it must do everything they can to make it better.