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The Basics of a Horse Race

A horse race is a contest of speed and stamina between two or more horses on an oval track. The winner is the horse that crosses the finish line first. The sport has evolved from a primitive wager between two horses into a worldwide spectacle featuring huge fields of runners and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, but its basic concept remains the same. It is one of the world’s oldest sports and it has attracted critics who argue that it is inhumane or corrupt. Others point out that the “Sport of Kings” represents the pinnacle of achievement for its competitors and that, while it may need reform, it is fundamentally sound.

The earliest races were match races between two or at most three horses, in which the owners provided the purse. If an owner withdrew, he would forfeit half or the whole purse. These agreements were recorded by disinterested third parties, who came to be known as keepers of the match books. One of the first was John Cheny at Newmarket in England, who began publishing An Historical List of All Horse-Matches Run (1729). Later James Weatherby took over and expanded this work to become The Racing Calendar, which continues to be published today.

Before a race, the horses are walked to the paddock, where they receive their bridles and other equipment and are fed. Then they begin a workout on the track, often in a group with other horses of similar ability. During this period, the trainers will jog the horses to get them used to the exercise and to work out their legs so they can travel faster when the race begins.

A typical race lasts about a mile and a half. The course is marked by poles that are set at measured distances from the finish. The quarter pole, for example, is located a quarter of a mile from the finish line. The top three horses in each race receive a portion of the purse, or total monetary award, which is distributed after the race. The remaining money is divided among the rest of the horses that finished in the top four or five positions.

Many of the horses in a race are injected with Lasix, which is noted on the racing form with a bold face letter “L.” The drug has been dubbed the legal steroid of horse racing. It is used to reduce the pulmonary bleeding that hard running causes in the majority of thoroughbreds. As a side effect, the horse will expels epic amounts of urine during the race–twenty or thirty pounds worth. The Jockey Club claims that the drug helps protect the horse’s health, but the truth is that the industry has been juicing horses for years.

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