One of the world’s oldest sports, horse racing evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses into a global spectacle involving huge fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and enormous sums of money. But the basic concept remains unchanged: the first horse to cross the finish line wins.
The sport has also benefited from technological advances in recent years that have enhanced horse and jockey safety. Thermal imaging cameras can detect signs of overheating post-race, MRIs and X-rays are used to diagnose a host of minor and major health issues, and 3D printing is capable of producing casts and splints for injured horses.
But despite these advances, the race track remains dangerous for horses, and injuries and fatal accidents continue to occur. In the wake of the mass deaths at Santa Anita Park in 2018, dozens of racing commissions enacted draconian new rules designed to reduce the risk of horses being trampled or struck by other competitors, but these were not enough to prevent future disasters.
Throughout a horse race, horses compete for prize money by attempting to cross a course that may include fences and hurdles that competitors must jump over. A horse’s success in a race depends on the skill of its jockey, who is positioned on its back and steers it along the track by applying pressure to its bit. In many races, the jockey wears a helmet and padded gloves to protect their head and hands.
Before a race begins, horses are lined up in their stalls or behind a starting gate. Once they’re ready, a flag is waved to signal the start of the race, and the competitors begin their run around the track. If the horses’ stalls are too close together, they might interfere with each other during the race. In this case, the stalls must be moved farther apart to create more space.
During the race, horses are monitored by stewards, who ensure that the competition is conducted fairly. If a horse is deemed to be running unethically, the stewards may disqualify it from the event. In this case, a horse’s owner would not receive any prize money.
If a horse and jockey are both determined to have crossed the finish line at exactly the same time, a photo finish is performed. The stewards carefully examine a photograph of the finish line to decide which horse broke the plane (or horizontal plane) of the finish line first. If they are unable to determine a winner, the race is declared a dead heat.