What is a Horse Race?

Horse race is an old sport in which a person places a bet on one or more horses to finish first. The horses are ridden by men called jockeys. There are three ways to bet: win, place and show. Winning a bet requires the horse to come in first, placing requires the horse to come in either second or third and showing involves betting on the horse to finish any of the top three.

The sport of horse racing has been around for centuries, although the exact origins are unknown. The Greeks invented the game by connecting a horse to two-wheeled carts or chariots, and it became a formalized contest sometime before 1000 B.C.E. It then spread to the Romans, who used a mixture called hydromel to increase the horses’ endurance. The horse races in the city of Siena, Italy, known as Il Palio di Siena, have a magnificent pageant and are a recurring attraction.

Once organized racing developed, bettors began speculating on the outcome of races, and some were able to make good money. By the early 1900s, however, a series of scandals triggered a wave of laws banning betting, and the industry collapsed. During the Great Depression, many horse owners were wiped out, and the race track business dried up as well.

After the depression, interest revived in Thoroughbred racing. A few big-money investors reestablished the sport, but it was still small. By the end of the 20th century, Thoroughbred racing was struggling in most states and was losing fans and revenue. It was a difficult time to be a horse racer, but television made it possible for more people to watch and bet on the races, and it helped to revitalize the industry.

Behind the romanticized facade of horse racing, there is a world of injuries, drug abuse and gruesome breakdowns. Many horses are pushed beyond their limits, and even if they don’t die in the heat of competition, they will suffer from an array of problems ranging from pulmonary hemorrhage to laminitis. The activists at the Horseracing Wrongs organization have documented abusive training practices, a culture of drug use, and the transportation and slaughter of countless American horses in foreign slaughterhouses.

In the bowels of the grandstand, away from the private suites and reserved seats upstairs, the crowd is mostly working-class men who periodically gather to stare up at banks of TVs in the sweltering arena. When a favorite wins, the men cheer and shout curses that blend Spanish and Chinese into a rhythm of universal imprecations. If a long shot like Seabiscuit comes in, their jubilation is genuine. For these men, a victory at the horse race is not just a sporting event; it may be a way to relieve the tight grip of poverty for a week, a month, or, if the longshot finishes first in the big one, a lifetime.