Horse races are events in which horses compete for the fastest time around a course. They can be run on flat or jumps courses, and may take place on grass, dirt, sand, or synthetic surfaces. The sport is a major source of entertainment and profit for spectators, as well as for bettors who make wagers on the outcome of each race.
The modern version of horse racing has evolved over the centuries, but its basic concept remains essentially unchanged. It has expanded from a primitive contest of speed and stamina between two horses into a massive global industry that features enormous fields of runners and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment. Its growing popularity as a spectator and betting activity has also drawn the attention of scholars.
Although many different types of races exist, Thoroughbred horse racing is the most prevalent form in the world. These races are usually restricted to members of specific breeds and require the horses to be accepted into a stud book before competing. The practice of using stud books to determine the pedigrees of horses and their eligibility for particular races dates back to ancient times.
A number of specialized tack and other equipment are used in horse racing, depending on the country in which the race takes place. The horses can be ridden or driven, and jockeys use a wide variety of riding styles. The terms used to describe a horse’s performance in a race are varied and colorful, and often reflect the customs and traditions of the culture.
For example, a race over a heavy track is sometimes called a “bog” or a “sticky”. A track with very tight turns is known as a bull ring. A horse that has had trouble negotiating this type of track is said to have had a “bad trip.”
In the early days of organized racing in England, races were usually match contests between two or at most three horses. Pressure by the public produced races with larger fields of runners, and eventually dash racing became common. As the emphasis shifted from stamina to speed, the rider’s skill and judgment became increasingly crucial in gaining victory.
The earliest written manuals on the care and training of horses date from about 1500 bc in Asia Minor. Both chariot and bareback (mounted) horse races were held at the Olympic Games from about 740 to 700 bc. The Iliad contains an extensive description of a chariot race from the 8th or 9th century bc. The first written record of a horse race in the United States dates to 1664, when colonial officials established a series of 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) races at New Amsterdam. The great American thoroughbreds of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Seabiscuit and Man o’ War, dominated world races, setting numerous records. The era of modern technology has brought significant improvements to the health and safety of race horses, both on and off the track. Thermal imaging cameras can detect heat exhaustion, MRI scanners and X-rays help prevent injuries during races, and 3D printing helps produce casts and splints for injured jockeys and horses.