Horse racing is a sport that involves betting on the winner of a horse race. A bet is placed on a horse by placing a wager of money against the odds set by the bookmaker. If the horse wins, the wager is rewarded with winnings. If the horse comes in second, the bettor receives a fraction of the win amount in place bets. Third, fourth and fifth places are also paid out in some races. The sport is played on a track, or gallops, that is enclosed in a fenced area. There are two types of horse races: flat and steeplechase. Flat races are run on a straight course, while steeplechase races involve jumping over obstacles such as fences. A horse’s speed and stamina are important factors in the outcome of a race.
Most horses used for racing are Thoroughbreds, a breed developed in England for both flat and steeplechase racing. Unlike other horse breeds, Thoroughbreds have long, lean bodies and are built for running. The breed was created from crosses between Arab and Barb horses imported to England early in the 17th century.
Initially, horse races were match contests between two or at most three horses. But as the sport became more popular, races were expanded to include larger fields. The American classics, the Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes and Kentucky Derby, are a part of the Triple Crown, a series of elite horse races. The sport also includes a series of races in other countries around the world.
A race is typically held over a set distance of six to eight furlongs (four to five miles). A horse’s winning chance increases with its pace in the starting gate and on the back stretch, and decreases as it approaches the finish line. A slow start, however, can be a disadvantage.
The earliest records of horse racing come from ancient Greece, where four-hitched chariot and mounted bareback races were held at the Olympic Games in 700 to 40 B.C. The sport spread to Asia, where both chariot and bareback racing continued. Later, the settlers brought horses to America, where they developed into what is now a multibillion-dollar industry.
Behind the romanticized facade of horse racing lies a cruel world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. Increasing awareness of these issues is slowly forcing the industry to improve its practices. But serious reform will require an end to the hostility between racing insiders and activists like PETA, who investigate and expose the dark side of the sport. The sports legions of apologists need to stop dodging and deflecting and embrace the truth: The sport is failing, not because of a shrinking share of the market but because it is corrupt and cruel. The only way to salvage the sport is to clean up its act and change the rules for good. The public deserves no less.