Horse racing is a sport in which horses compete against each other on a flat track with varying distances. To win a race, the winning horse and jockey must cross the finish line before all other competitors. If two or more horses cross the finish line at the same time and it is impossible to determine a winner, a photo finish is used. In this case, a panel of stewards studies a photograph of the finish and declares which horse broke the plane first. If it is still not possible to determine a winner, the race is settled using dead heat rules.
The grueling physical stress of horse racing and training has left many of the breed’s young horses vulnerable to catastrophic injuries, including fractured limbs, collapsed lungs and heart attacks. The death of Eight Belles at the Kentucky Derby and that of Medina Spirit at the 2008 Preakness Stakes prompted a reevaluation of the sport’s ethics and integrity, with a focus on improving the welfare of horses.
Since then, many improvements have been made. But the underlying issues have not changed. When a young horse dies catastrophically in the throes of a race or in training, it is a reminder that the best interests of the equine are still not being put first by the industry. If you can witness a horse die tragically at a race and move on with no more than a pang of remorse, you are doing a disservice to racing’s future.
Throughout history, horse races have evolved from private bets (to win) to pari-mutuel wagering (a system in which bettors pool their money and share the total amount wagered minus a management fee). From the beginning, betting was intended to make the sport more attractive to spectators and to attract new participants. The racetrack managements hoped that increasing the number of people betting would also increase their profits.
While some races are restricted to older horses, most major international flat races admit horses up to the age of three. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Melbourne Cup, Tokyo Cup and Caulfield Cup are examples of famous races that admit older horses.
The majority of horse races are run over a straight course, while a few feature obstacles such as hurdles or fences. The most prestigious flat races are often held over distances of between 2 and 5 miles (3 and 8 kilometers). Horses competing in these longer races must show both speed and stamina.