What is a Horse Race?
A horse race is a contest between two or more horses over distances ranging from a few miles to ten or more. Originally it was a primitive contest of speed or stamina, but has evolved into a massive public entertainment enterprise. Today, it requires large fields of runners, electronic monitoring equipment, and immense sums of money. While the sport has changed dramatically, its basic concept remains unchanged: the winner is the one that crosses the finish line first. Many people criticize the sport for being cruel to horses and for corruption in its operations, but others maintain that horse racing represents the pinnacle of achievement for these magnificent creatures.
Horse races are run on a number of different surfaces, from dirt tracks to grassy ovals. The most common are polytracks, which combine asphalt and rubber to provide a lightning-fast surface. Some races are held on turf courses, which are typically more difficult for horses to navigate because of the nature of the ground. Other races are run on a pasteboard track, which has an extremely high-traction surface designed to reduce the chance of injury and allow horses to run faster than on other types of surfaces.
Some races are handicapped, which means that a higher-rated horse is given weight allowances by the racing secretary, based on its previous performance and type of victories. These allowances are intended to level the playing field and encourage more horses to participate in a race. Other races are not handicapped, and are open to all horses who meet the minimum requirements of age and class.
The most famous horse race in the world is the Kentucky Derby, which takes place every May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The 2008 death of Eight Belles, a horse that broke her leg during the race, and the 2007 death of Medina Spirit, another Kentucky Derby champion, have sparked a growing controversy over the safety of thoroughbred racing and the integrity of the sport.
Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred horse racing is a dark side that includes injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter. While fans wear fancy outfits and sip mint juleps, the horses are forced to sprint-often under the threat of whips and illegal electric shock devices-at speeds that cause them to bleed from their lungs (exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage).
Some critics argue that horse racing is a corrupt business in which many participants are crooks who dangerously drug and otherwise mistreat their animals. Others, however, contend that the sport is still a worthwhile pastime because it offers a challenge to the best and brightest. Most of all, they say, the racing industry is better than it was in the past, and that progress can continue if the industry will remain transparent and willing to change. Mary E. Cox is a Senior Writer for Sports&Hobbies and has written extensively on horse racing. She lives in northern New York and holds a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Goddard College.