A horse race is a competition between horses and their riders, supervised by stewards. The objective is for the winning horse and rider to complete the race course, including jumping any obstacles (if present) before all other competing horses. A monetary prize is awarded to the first, second and third place finishers. The rules and regulations of horse racing vary by country, but most are based on the British system. The history of the sport dates back thousands of years to the chariot races that took place in ancient Syrian, Egyptian, and Greek civilizations. The sport became more formalized during the thirty-third Olympiad in 664 B.C.E.
The first organized horse race in the United States was held in New Amsterdam in 1664. Afterward, colonial commander Richard Nicolls established the rules of racing for North America by laying out a 2-mile race track and offering prizes. Nicolls also introduced the use of silks to identify the owners and jockeys of each horse.
Flat races are generally run over distances of two to four miles (5 km to 8 km). They can be sprints requiring speed or longer distances that test stamina and require more endurance. The latter are known as routes in the US and stayers in Europe. The prestigious races are often called conditions races and offer the largest purses.
In a horse race, the most important factors affecting the outcome of a race are the horse’s condition, its ability to accelerate and its trainer’s skill and judgment in managing the animal’s pace. In addition, the track, the weather, and the quality of the jockeys’ riding skills are all important factors in determining a horse’s performance.
A key part of a jockey’s job is to coax the horse through each phase of the race. The most difficult phases are the early and closing stages of the race when a horse is most likely to tire. A good jockey can keep a tired horse in the hunt for a win by applying steady pressure to the horse on its flanks and shoulders.
When the race is over, a photograph of the finish line is studied by stewards to determine who won. In the event that no clear winner can be identified, a dead heat is declared.
One of the biggest problems with horse racing is doping. It is not uncommon for horses to be given illegal drugs that increase their speed and mask pain. This is done by both amateur and professional trainers. Horses who become injured are often sold to new owners without disclosing their condition, and they can end up at auction or in the slaughter pipeline. Many veterinarians leave the industry because they are disheartened by watching trainers over-medicate and over-train their animals. Some horses are even killed by being overworked. Eight Belles, a filly who died after finishing in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, was 17 years old and approaching her golden years before being put to sleep due to stress from her race.