What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest in which horses are ridden by jockeys to the finish line. The winner takes the prize money, called a purse. The runner-up usually receives a smaller amount, and the last place horse may get nothing at all. The winner must beat all other competing horses by a significant margin in order to win the race. The sport has its critics, who argue that it is inhumane and corrupted by drugs. However, the industry remains popular in many areas of the world.

In the earliest days of the sport, races were match races between two or three horses, with the owner providing the purse, and bets coming in the form of simple wagers. The agreements were recorded by disinterested parties, who came to be known as keepers of the match book. One such keeper at Newmarket, England, John Cheny, began publishing An Historical List of All Horse-Matches Run in 1729.

As the sport grew and became more formalized, it was divided into different categories of race: sprints, in which a horse must accelerate quickly, and long-distance races, in which a horse must maintain its stamina over a distance of two to four miles (3.2 to 6.8 km). The latter are sometimes called route races or staying races. In addition to determining how well a horse will perform, race length also plays an important role in the determination of the prize money. A race extending over longer distances is generally considered to be more difficult to win, and as such the winning prize is typically higher.

Horses are often pushed beyond their limits by trainers in an attempt to increase the odds of winning. As a result, many of them will bleed from their lungs in the course of the race, a condition known as exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. To prevent this, most thoroughbreds are given a cocktail of legal and illegal drugs to mask the bleeding and boost performance. These include antipsychotics, anti-inflammatories, blood doping agents, and growth hormones. Some are also injected with a substance called Lasix, which causes the horse to unload epic amounts of urine, often twenty or thirty pounds worth.

A variety of tools and techniques are employed to prepare horses for the racetrack, including training, exercise, and veterinary care. A trainer might use a whip or electronic shock device to encourage his or her horse to speed up. A horse that is trained and raced in an attempt to improve its chances of winning is often referred to as the “chalk” for the betting totals on it displayed on a chalkboard at the track. Other common terms include: