What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest of speed between horses that are either ridden by jockeys or pull sulkies and their drivers. It is one of the oldest sports in human history, and is an important part of world culture and mythology. It is also a major source of entertainment and gambling.

Horse races are held in many countries around the world, and have a long and distinguished history. They date back to ancient times, with archaeological evidence of racing in Ancient Greece, Rome, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. It is a popular sport for both amateurs and professionals, who compete for prize money.

While horse racing is a spectacle that can attract millions of spectators and generate enormous amounts of revenue, its inner workings remain relatively unchanged over centuries. The sport combines ancient traditions with modern technology, but the core of a horse race remains the same: The fastest steed wins.

The reverberations of Eight Belles’ death at the 2011 Derby and those of Medina Spirit a few months later have made it clear that a thoroughbred’s life in training and competition is no more or less hazardous than that of the average human athlete. Horses die in exorbitantly high numbers from injuries, broken limbs, and heart failure under the extraordinary physical stress of race preparation.

Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred horse racing lies a world of drugs, abuse, and gruesome breakdowns. Horses are forced to sprint, often under the threat of whips and illegal electric-shocking devices, at speeds that cause devastating injuries, including hemorrhage from the lungs. They are started in training before they are skeletally mature. For example, the Kentucky Derby is run by three-year-olds, while a Lippizaner of the Spanish Riding School may not be fully developed until the age of five or six.

Unlike human athletes, who are motivated by psychological incentives to achieve ever-improved performance records, the horses in a horse race are simply concerned with winning. The winning time is determined by a complex of inputs from the horse, its trainers and jockeys, the track surface, weather conditions, race tactics, etc.

Moreover, in contrast to the linear improvement shown by humans in elite races over the last 50 years, winning times have declined significantly in most horse races (see Table 2). There is no indication that genetic gains through generations of inbreeding are accounting for this trend.