A horse race is a competition between horses that are ridden by humans. People wager money on which horse will finish first, and the winner gets a prize amount. Depending on the type of race, prizes can be large sums of money or other rewards. A horse race is one of the oldest sports and its basic concept has changed little over time.
The sport developed sometime before 1000 B.C.E. It started as a game in which chariots pulled by horses were competing against each other. Later, men mounted on the backs of horses and began to race them, a more formal version of the game.
Today, the sport is a spectacle involving huge fields of runners and electronic monitoring equipment. It is also a big business, with enormous sums of money wagered. People are increasingly concerned about the welfare of horses, however, and critics point out that the industry’s practices are cruel and unnecessary. In particular, horses are pushed beyond their limits and are given cocktails of legal and illegal drugs to mask injuries and enhance performance. Many horses are injured or killed as a result of these practices. In addition, the horses spend most of their work lives in solitary confinement in a stall. Many are drugged and whipped; a great many are slaughtered, with PETA estimating that about ten thousand American thoroughbreds die each year from racing-related causes.
In flat races, a horse’s pedigree determines whether it can compete. To be eligible to race, the horse must have a sire and dam that are purebred members of the same breed. A horse can receive additional privileges if it is graded, meaning that its record and the quality of the race in which it is entered qualify it for a higher designation, such as Grade 1.
During a horse race, riders must ride their mounts safely, following a course that includes jumping hurdles (if present) or other obstacles, and crossing the finish line in order to win. A rider who fails to follow the prescribed course may be disqualified.
In steeplechase races, or jump races, the horses must also clear a series of hurdles on their way to the finish line. A horse is considered to have jumped successfully if its rider has a steady hand and clears the obstacle in a controlled manner. A horse that is deemed to have jumped the hurdles improperly will be disqualified by the stewards, who are responsible for enforcing the rules of the race.
In some types of horse races, such as the Kentucky Derby, a bet can be placed on a specific number of horses to finish in the top three positions. Known as a place bet, this type of betting is common in Europe and Australia and can involve placing multiple bets at one time. Other betting options include the accumulator bet, in which all the selections in a race are combined and paid out as one unit.