Horse races are exciting, competitive events in which horses compete for a certain amount of prize money. The sport is also a popular form of gambling and attracts many spectators. However, behind the romanticized facade of the sport lies a world of injuries, drug abuse, and gruesome breakdowns. Horses are also forced to run so fast that they often suffer from internal damage and hemorrhage in their lungs. These risks are even greater for young equine athletes, who start racing as early as four years old, and are subjected to an intense training program that can put their developing bones and ligaments under tremendous stress with little opportunity for recovery or rest.
During a horse race, horses are ridden by jockeys to guide them over a set course, usually including any hurdles or fences that may be present. The horses are then ranked according to their finishing position. Spectators can place bets on the winning horse and on exotic wagers such as daily doubles.
To win the race, a horse must cross the finish line before the other competing horses do so. If no one crosses the finish line at the same time, a photo finish is used to determine the winner. In a photo finish, the stewards examine a close-up of the finish line to decide which horse broke the plane (or planes) of light first. If a result cannot be determined, a dead heat is declared and both horses receive the same amount of prize money.
Before a race begins, the horses are lined up in stalls or in front of a starting gate. After the starter’s gun signals the start of the race, the gates open and the horses begin to move forward. In some cases, a flag or bell is used to signal the start of the race instead of a starter’s gun.
When a horse is leading the race, it is said to be “on top”. The leaders are known as pacemakers. They are followed by the pack, which is made up of all the other horses in the race. Behind the pack are the laggards, and then the closers, which are horses that are trying to catch up to the leaders.
During the race, riders use a whip to encourage their horses on the track and to help them jump any hurdles or fences that they encounter. Jockeys can also use a hand ride, in which case they do not use a whip.
A horse that is lagging behind the pack in the early stages of the race is said to be “off the pace”. The faster-than-average horses are described as being “up front.” A horse with a bad back or hocks is known as having a sore foot. The last horse to complete the race is called a scratched or pulled. A scratched horse will not be replaced and is out of the competition. A scratched horse will not receive any of the bets placed on it.