A horse race is a competition in which thoroughbred horses compete against each other on a track. It is a spectator sport, and bettors place wagers on the winning horse. The betting system varies from nation to nation. In some countries, such as England, the Jockey Club is the regulatory agency that oversees long-term policy, while in others, such as the United States, state racing commissions are responsible for day-to-day operations.
Spectators wear fancy clothes and sip mint juleps while watching the action, but behind the romanticized facade of the sport lies a world of drug abuse, injuries, breakdowns, and slaughter. In addition, the horses are forced to run so fast that they often suffer from fractures and hemorrhage in their lungs. The racing industry has improved its practices, but animal advocates remain critical of the sport and call for further improvements.
The earliest documented horse races, known as chariot races, took place in Asia Minor around 1500 bc and are mentioned in Homer’s Iliad. In the Americas, the sport was introduced with the arrival of European settlers, who held regular match races between two horses over several four-mile heats. The first races were conducted on natural terrain, but in the 19th century, tracks were built over paved surfaces. This change led to the development of modern thoroughbred racing, which is characterized by a series of elite races, including the Triple Crown of American races (the Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes, and Kentucky Derby). The sport also includes international races such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, the Melbourne Cup and Sydney Cup in Australia, the Gran Premio Internacional Carlos Pellegrini in Argentina, and the Durban July in South Africa.
Racing began to take on a more social aspect with the invention of betting. Bets were originally placed privately, but in the early 20th century wagering was centralized at the tracks and regulated by bookmaking. A new type of bet, called a pari-mutuel, was developed in which all bettors, regardless of whether they finish first, second or third, share the total amount bet minus a small percentage for the track’s management. This system is used worldwide today.
Aside from the prestige of winning a major race, the best horses are rewarded by earning large purses. In many of these races, the horses are assigned a certain weight to carry, and allowances are made for age (younger horses must carry more weight than older ones) and gender (females are allowed to compete against males). These races are referred to as condition races.