Horse racing is a sport that dates back to ancient times, and archaeological records show it was practiced by the Greeks and Romans, as well as in Babylon, Syria, Egypt, Persia, and Arabia. It evolved into a formal event during the Olympic Games of 700 to 40 B.C., when men hitched chariots to the animals and mounted them for competition. From there, horse racing spread across the world and became an integral part of mythology, including the contest between Odin’s steeds on Hrungnir in Norse legend.
Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred racehorse racing, a darker world of drug abuse and gruesome breakdowns lies. Horses used in the sport are forced to sprint-often under the threat of whips and illegal electric shockers-at speeds that can lead to severe injuries and hemorrhage from their lungs. And despite the claims of owners and trainers that horses are “born to run, love to compete,” the reality is that running at a speed required for races bears no resemblance to their natural state.
The racing industry has tried many methods to improve the chances of winning, including limiting the number of runners and adjusting the weights each must carry in order to make the sport more competitive for all entrants. In addition, the racing secretary assigns weight allowances to entrants that are based on their previous purse earnings and types of wins. Those who finish the most times and/or places receive the largest share of the winning prize money. A horse who does not win a race is said to have finished “out of the money.”
In addition, the horses competing in a race may be classified as stakes or claiming horses, and their status is determined by a variety of factors. A stakes race is a higher-quality competition for top horses that can attract large betting pools and has higher prize money. Claiming races are designed for horses that have been sold or purchased to a licensed owner or trainer for a predetermined price before the race, and they must pay the winnings to the former owner should they win.
One popular variation on the traditional track race is endurance racing, in which competitors follow a designated route over a much longer distance (typically 50 or 150 miles). These races can take place in mountains, forests, deserts, and other terrains, and participants must traverse hills in addition to negotiating straights and curved tracks.
Another popular style of horse racing involves pacing or trotting, whereby the horses move their front and hind legs at the same time. There are several different pacing styles, ranging from fast paces to very slow trots. Trotting is also popular for horses that are racing against other animals, such as other horses and dogs, in so-called handicap events.