Horse races are organized competitions that involve a number of horses competing for prize money over a set distance. The horse that finishes first is deemed the winner. Often, these races are divided into groups based on age and gender in order to create a competitive balance and promote fairness.
The basic concept behind horse racing has remained unchanged throughout the centuries. A contest of speed and stamina between two or more horses, it has evolved from a primitive diversion for the leisure class into an enormously popular spectator sport. Today, it involves large fields of competitors, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment and immense sums of money.
But behind the romanticized façade of horse racing is a world of injuries, drug abuse and gruesome breakdowns. Horses are forced to sprint—often under threat of whips and illegal electric shocking devices—at speeds that cause them to bleed from the lungs, a condition known as exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. They are also routinely given cocktails of legal and illegal drugs to mask pain, mask injuries and enhance performance.
In the United States, Thoroughbreds compete in races that range from six furlongs to three miles or more. Those races are commonly called dirt or turf races and feature either an oval or a straight track. Those that take place on an oval are more common and usually offer larger purses than those that take place on a straight track.
During a race, the horses are loaded into starting gates (stalls) that are then confined until an official called a starter releases the stalls’ confined front doors and the race begins. The gate crew and the starter both have responsibility for ensuring that each horse gets a fair start.
After the horses have been ridden to their appropriate positions, they are sent out into the racetrack by being pushed or pulled by a jockey. The jockey, who rides the horse, must be able to maintain control of the horse over a course that may include obstacles such as hurdles. The horse must be able to make its way around the course without interference from other horses and reach the finish line at the end of the race, which is usually located at the farthest end of the track from the starting gate.
There are many significant people who work behind the scenes of horse racing to ensure that a race is held and that each of the participants have an opportunity to win. These include horse owners, trainers and grooms. The most important behind-the-scenes players are the horse trainers, who act as coaches for the horses. A horse is usually colored one of the following ways: bay (yellow-tan to a bright auburn, with black mane, tail and lower legs); chestnut (reddish brown to dark golden yellow, with black mane, tail and lower parts of legs); gray; or roan, which is a mix of white and black hairs. A horse may also have a variety of patterns on its head.