Horse racing has been an important part of the world’s cultures for thousands of years. The sport combines athleticism and elegance with drama, pageantry, and spectacle. Behind the romanticized facade of horse races, however, lies a world of brutal injuries, drug abuse, and gruesome breakdowns.
A horse race is a competition in which the first horse to cross the finish line wins. The horse race may be run over a dirt track, turf course, or an oval. The horses are typically conditioned to run faster over the dirt than they are on the grass. The horse’s ability to sprint is a major factor in its success, and horses are pushed past their limits at speeds that can cause serious injuries, including exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. As a result, many horses, particularly older ones, will bleed from their lungs during a race and are sometimes euthanized afterward.
The practice of horse racing is regulated by the state governments in which it takes place. In return for the profits from horse racing, state governments impose steep taxes on bettors to help pay for welfare services and public schools. As a result, horse racing is the most heavily taxed sport in the United States.
In the early days of modern horse racing, races were match races between two or three horses. The owners provided the purse and bettors placed a wager on the winner. The owners agreed to forfeit half of the bets or, later, the whole prize if they withdrew from the race. These agreements were recorded by disinterested third parties, who became known as keepers of the match book.
By the 1600s, Newmarket in England had become a center for horse racing and breeding. This era is considered the beginning of Thoroughbred horse racing. The breed was bred to perform in a variety of events, from Roman and Greek chariot races to Bedouin endurance races in the desert.
One of the most important innovations to come from the Newmarket era was the handicap race. A handicap involves adjusting the weights that competing horses must carry to make them as equal as possible to each other. Weight penalties are based on a horse’s age, so that a two-year-old has less weight to carry than a five-year-old. There are also sex allowances, such as for fillies, which allow them to carry slightly lower weights than males.
The race’s outcome is decided based on a photo finish, in which a panel of officials examines a photographic image of the finishing line to determine which horse crossed it first. If the decision cannot be made, the horses are declared dead heat winners and awarded a share of the total prize money. This system of photo finishes differs from those used in other sports, such as the NBA, where a single set of rules applies to all teams and players. Because horse races are largely a state-regulated industry, the rules for horses and their trainers vary greatly between jurisdictions.