What You Need to Know About a Horse Race
A horse race is a thrilling, exhilarating spectacle. Hundreds of thousands of humans gather at tracks across the country to watch horses and jockeys move with hypnotic smoothness and huge strides. They cheer and shriek, making the experience a fusion of athleticism and drama.
But beneath the surface, the sport is a bleak and often deadly affair. Its athletes are drugged and whipped, trained and raced far too young, and pushed to their limits and beyond. Many are injured or break down, and if they do not die from the sport, they will eventually be slaughtered in foreign abattoirs. The death toll from this for-profit business is high, and it is growing. In the wake of the tragedies at Santa Anita Park, racing has made some improvements, but the industry faces mounting pressure from a public that recognizes that its animals are entitled to certain basic human rights, including survival of the for-profit business that created them.
The rules that govern horse races vary slightly among national organizations, but the vast majority are similar. The first horse to have its nose pass the finish line determines the winner, and a number of things can disqualify a horse or a rider.
blazer: A long jacket and cap worn by riders to designate ownership or, at some smaller tracks, post position (yellow for number one, blue for two, etc.).
chestnut: A type of Thoroughbred horse characterized by its deep chestnut color, which can be spotted from a great distance.
derby: A race run over a distance of at least a mile and with at least two turns. The name derives from the city of Louisville, Kentucky, which hosted the first Derby in 1875.
dirt: A granular substance used to make the track more durable and provide an even playing field for horses. sand: A finer material used to create a more grippy surface for horses.
sesamoid fracture: Fracture of the small bones located above and behind the fetlock joint. There are four types of sesamoid fractures: apical, abaxial, mid-body and basilar.
saddle: The leather strap attached to a horse’s bridle by which it is secured to the horse’s head and neck.
shadow roll: A sheepskin roll secured to a horse’s nose to prevent it from seeing its own shadow on the track and shying away or jumping over it.
spit box: A stall where a horse is brought to be tested after a race for substances such as saliva, urine or blood.
sprint race: A short race of a mile or less, usually with just one turn.
stakes race: A race with a significant prize money, typically awarded to the winner of a division of a graded series of races.
roaring: The whistling sound made by a horse during exercise when it inhales, due to a paralysis of the nerves that control the muscles which elevate the arytenoid cartilages, opening the larynx.
race day Lasix: A diuretic given to most thoroughbreds on the day of a race, to decrease pulmonary bleeding from hard running.