Horse racing is one of the world’s oldest sporting endeavors. Today, the sport is a global industry with more than 200 million people betting on horses each year. In the United States alone, more than $3 billion is wagered on races each year. The most popular wagers are win, place, and show. The winnings of these bettors depend on a complex system that calculates each horse’s chances of finishing first, second, or third in a race based on its previous races and current form.
The horse races are held in various countries and are run under a variety of rules, though the vast majority follow the rulebook of the British Horseracing Authority. Flat races must be started from starting gates or stalls, while steeplechases, hurdles, and jump races may be begun with flags (with special permission) or from start boxes. In addition, each national organization has a separate set of rules, though most are very similar and all have been influenced by the original rule book.
During a horse race, stewards examine each horse after it crosses the finish line to determine the winner. If the photo finish cannot be determined, then the result is settled by dead heat rules.
A steward is an official who monitors the behavior of horse racing participants and enforces the rules. The stewards are also responsible for ensuring that the horses are fit to run. In the event of a dispute, the stewards may investigate the matter and decide whether to disqualify a participant or issue further sanctions.
Feeling the earth shake as a mass of thundering hooves goes barreling down the stretch is one of the quintessential Kentucky experiences. But it’s easy to forget that the equine athletes who compete in these spectacles have delicate ankles and are often pushed to their limits by gamblers and industry folks, many of whom rely on donations from horse-racing aficionados to keep them going.
The sport’s problems are systemic. Most horses cost less than a used car, so owners have an incentive to push them past their limits to maximize their profits, and there’s no lifelong tracking system for the thousands of thoroughbreds that leave tracks each year. Some are slaughtered, while others are relegated to life in the breeding shed or as stable hands before being sold infinite times into unknown situations.
The best way to save the industry would be to acknowledge that the horses are its most important assets and to take steps to protect them, including instituting an industry-wide reorganization of business practices that prioritizes horse welfare from breeding to racing to aftercare. This would require a profound ideological reckoning on the macro business and industry level, as well as in the minds of horsemen and women. It would involve a complete restructuring from top to bottom, with caps on the number of times that a horse can be run, and integrating a more natural and equine-friendly lifestyle into the racing process.