A horse race is a competition between horses in which the winner is determined by which one crosses a designated finish line first. The winners are awarded a sum of prize money. There are four primary kinds of horse races: flat racing, steeplechasing, harness racing and endurance races. Horses in flat racing compete over a course without obstacles, while those in steeplechasing must jump over barriers, horses pull a cart in harness races and those in endurance races must cover extreme distances.
The horse racing industry faces criticism from animal rights groups and others who believe that the sport is inhumane or that it has become corrupt as a result of doping, overbreeding and illegal gambling activities. However, there is an argument that the horse racing industry should be allowed to exist because it is a source of jobs, taxes and economic growth for communities across the country.
In its early days, horse racing was a match race between two or three horses. The owner of the winning horse provided the purse for the wager, and bets were taken by disinterested third parties called keepers of the match book. If a horse withdrew from the race, it would forfeit half of the stakes money, later the entire amount. Eventually the sport evolved into a field race with larger purses and rules governing the eligibility of horses based on age, sex, birthplace and previous performance.
Some races, known as handicap races, are run in a series of heats. A horse’s position in the starting gate, its gender and the type of jockey are all used to determine its weight allowance. In a handicap race, a young horse will carry less weight than an older horse in order to give it the best chance of winning.
Other races are run in a single heat, and the winner is determined by a photo finish. In a photo finish, the stewards, or racing officials, closely examine a photograph of the finishing line to decide which horse broke the plane, or crossed the finish line first. A photo finish can sometimes be difficult to determine, so a dead heat is declared when the stewards cannot agree on a winner.
Many people choose to watch horse races because they enjoy the ambiance of a racetrack, where fans wear fancy clothes and sip mint juleps. But behind the romance of the racetrack is a world of injuries, drug abuse and gruesome breakdowns. If the equine racing industry is unable to address its problems with equine welfare, it will ultimately fail.