A horse race is a contest over a set distance between one or more horses, ridden by jockeys (riders), in which bettors place wagers on the winner. It is the world’s oldest sport and is practised in nearly every country and culture around the globe. Whether they bet a penny or millions, people are drawn to the thrill and spectacle of a great race.
The race procedure begins in the paddock, where horses are saddled before they are paraded to the starting gate by their trainers and inspected for any rule violations. Jockeys weigh in and receive instructions from their trainers before mounting. Jockeys are also examined for the presence of prohibited substances, a practice that has led to many disqualifications. Saliva and urine samples are also taken from the horses to verify that they have not been injected with performance-enhancing drugs.
Historically, bettors placed private bets with friends or other acquaintances, sharing the total amount wagered minus a percentage fee for the management of the track. In the 19th century, betting was extended to a pari-mutuel system in which bettors share in winnings or loses according to their finishing position.
In some races, the horses are given a fixed weight, or handicap, which is designed to make the competition more fair. Typically, the heavier the weight a horse must carry, the more difficult it will be to win. The handicap may be set centrally where racing is so controlled or by individual tracks. Weights can also be based on a number of other factors such as age, sex, training, and the fact that a female horse is running against males.
Horses have a long and distinguished history in racing, with archaeological evidence of the sport’s existence in Ancient Greece, Rome, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. In modern times, the sport has become a global enterprise with a wide variety of races, from high-profile events such as the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes to regional and state races. There are even specialized races for fillies and sprinters.
Behind the romanticized facade of horse races is a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter. Pushed beyond their limits, most racehorses are subjected to cocktails of legal and illegal drugs intended to mask injuries and artificially enhance their performance. A common side effect is exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, which causes the horses to bleed from their lungs during a race. Many horses that fail to meet expectations end up in slaughterhouses in Canada, Mexico, and Japan, where they are turned into glue or dog food.
Media scholars have studied how news coverage of elections frames candidates as competing in a horse race, relying heavily on public opinion polls and giving the most attention to frontrunners or underdogs with momentum. This style of reporting—what is known as horse race coverage—can hurt third-party political candidates and distort the electoral process. Efforts are underway to change the way elections are covered by adopting a new approach called probabilistic forecasting.