A horse race is a contest of speed among horses that are either ridden by jockeys or pulled by sulkies and their drivers. The practice has existed for millennia, with numerous cultures hosting a variety of races—from Greek and Roman chariots to Bedouin endurance races in the desert. Modern horse racing got its start in England, where Newmarket is the center of breeding and racing operations to this day.
Unlike most sports, in which the winner is determined by counting points awarded to each team, horse races are decided by the first horse to cross the finish line. Spectators can place bets on the winning horse, as well as the top two, three and more horses to finish in a particular position. Betting on horse races is a popular pastime that has expanded to include online betting.
In the United States, horse racing is a multibillion-dollar industry. The sport is regulated by state law, and horse racing officials oversee all aspects of the business, including safety.
The most common types of horse races are flat races over distances between one and four miles. Shorter races, known as sprints, are seen as tests of speed, while longer events, called routes in the United States and staying races in Europe, are viewed as tests of stamina.
Because a single horse costs less than a used car, and because the purses for most races are jacked up with taxpayer money, many owners have an incentive to push their horses past their limits. This can lead to injuries such as pulmonary hemorrhage, a bleeding of the lungs, which is caused by exercise and often occurs during horse races. In addition, the stresses of the track can cause fractured spines and shattered legs, with sometimes only skin holding a limb together.
To compensate for their lack of natural stamina, racing horses are fed a cocktail of legal and illegal drugs designed to mask injuries and artificially enhance performance. Most of these horses will bleed from their lungs during a race, a condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. To reduce this hazard, horses are frequently given Lasix and Salix, diuretics with performance-enhancing properties.
Injuries are a major concern at any track, and deaths in the paddock or on the course are not uncommon. Injuries include cardiovascular collapse and a failure of the heart, fractured spines, ruptured ligaments and shattered legs, with often only skin connecting the limbs to the rest of the body. Injuries are also a leading cause of death on the racetrack, with horses sometimes being forced to continue to run and jump while suffering from pulmonary hemorrhage, heart failure and other problems. In nature, horses understand the value of self-preservation, but at the racetrack, humans perched on their backs compel them—with the use of a whip—to breakneck speeds that are dangerous for even healthy animals. In the end, too many racehorses—injured or not—are lost. The sport is a brutal and cruel affair.