A horse race is a sport in which horses compete against each other for a prize. This sport developed from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses into a spectacle that involves massive fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and enormous sums of money. It is a form of gambling in which the winner is determined by whichever horse crosses the finish line first. The race has a long history and has been characterized by periodic booms and busts in popularity.
The first documented horse race was held in 1651 as the result of a wager between two noblemen in France. In the modern era, horse racing has evolved from an entertainment diversion for the rich into a worldwide multi-billion dollar business. Despite these changes, its basic concept remains unchanged from its earliest days. The horse that finishes first wins the prize, usually a large amount of cash.
Before a race begins, the horses are positioned in stalls or behind a starting gate. Then a starter releases the gate and the horses begin the race. The horses then run down the length of the track and over any hurdles or fences along the way.
Throughout the course of the race, the horses are guided by jockeys on their backs. The jockeys use their whip to urge the horses on and keep them in a straight line. Some races are run on a dirt track, while others take place on grass. Some tracks are designed with a series of tight turns, while others have wide, open ovals.
Many horse races are handicapped, in which the weights that a competing horse must carry during the race are adjusted on the basis of age and sex. For example, a three-year-old horse is assumed to have reached its peak ability at that age and thus has less weight to carry than a younger or older competitor. A number of other allowances are also provided for racehorses.
The Preakness Stakes is the second of America’s Triple Crown races. It is run at Pimlico in Baltimore and is one of the most prestigious races in horse racing. It was originally 1+5/8 miles (2,600 m) but was shortened to its current distance in 1926. The field is limited to 14 horses.
Until 1984, pari-mutuel bets were tallied manually. These inefficiencies contributed to the decline of horse racing’s popularity until it underwent a dramatic revival in the mid-1980s when computerized betting systems and televised color coverage were introduced. These developments greatly improved the management of pari-mutuel bets and dramatically increased both turnover and attendance at horse races. Combined with better breeding and racing, these factors made horse racing a profitable enterprise for owners and breeders alike. It is currently the seventh most popular sports activity in the United States, with an estimated annual gross of $11.5 billion. This is up from $5.7 billion in 2000. This is more than football, baseball, basketball, and hockey combined, but less than auto racing, boxing, and tennis.