What Is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest between horses of varying quality and abilities, usually for a substantial prize. The word may also be used metaphorically to describe a contest between competing political candidates, as in “a close horse race.” The term is often associated with the United States presidential election, although it can be applied to any kind of horse-related competition. During an actual horse race, bettors can place wagers on various outcomes of the event. However, bettors may not be able to win a horse race if they do not know what to look for.

During a horse race, the horse jockeys are tasked with performing a complex and dangerous dance on the back of their horses. The skill required is not easy to master and even the best jockeys can experience serious injuries. The sport is a dangerous endeavor for both the riders and their mounts and is estimated to cause ten thousand deaths per year.

The earliest races were match races between two or three horses, with the owners providing the purse and the bets being a simple wager. The agreements were recorded by disinterested third parties, who came to be known as keepers of the match book. These agreements became the foundation for horse racing rules and regulations, which were formalized in the 1730s with the publication of An Historical List of All Horse-Matches Run (1729).

As racing evolved into a more modern enterprise, it became necessary to limit bloodlines to reduce the likelihood that inferior horses would infiltrate the elite divisions. This led to the formation of breeders’ associations and race tracks that would only allow certain studbooks to use their facilities. The practice of using foreign stallion stock was also discouraged, and a 1913 law called the Jersey Act disqualified many British Thoroughbreds that had tainted American breeding.

With the advent of more powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories that were designed for humans, the drug game in horse racing took on a whole new dimension. The new medications were hard to detect and testing capacity was limited. In addition, the penalties for violations were generally light. Trainer Bob Baffert, for example, has had his horses fail drugs tests thirty times, but he has always denied wrongdoing and been only lightly sanctioned.

In recent years, the issue of illegal drug use has grown in importance in horse racing. Activists like Patrick Battuello run the Horseracing Wrongs group, and he argues that racing is “the Big Lie.” His group claims that horseracers are using drugs to speed up their horses and that, among those who do not die as a result of the sport, a great many–PETA estimates ten thousand of them every year in America alone–will be slaughtered.

A horse’s day at the track begins in the walking ring, where he or she is inspected for suitability for racing. Bettors take particular interest in the brightness of a horse’s coat, which is a good indication of its readiness for the race. Most racehorses are injected with Lasix, a diuretic, that is noted on the racing form by a boldface “L.” The medication helps prevent pulmonary bleeding that results from hard running and can be fatal for some of the horses.