A horse race is a contest of speed and stamina between two or more horses. It is generally contested over a distance of between five and eight furlongs (six and twelve furlongs for trotting races) with races ranging from six to sixteen furlongs being considered middle distances. Depending on the race, there are various rules of engagement. A race might be a handicap race where the horses are given weight allowances based on their previous purse earnings and types of victories. Some races are designated as apprentice jockey events where student jockeys receive weight allowances to help them learn their craft. A heavy track is one that has received an excessive amount of rain and is almost a bog-like surface.
Horses are bred, trained and fed to run, and they have a natural urge to compete. However, their lives on a racetrack bear little resemblance to what they are designed for in the wild. Horses are pushed beyond their limits and often injured in close quarters. In nature, they understand self-preservation and will stop when they are exhausted or in pain. But on a racetrack, humans perched on their backs compel them to continue at breakneck speeds and whack them with a whip that can cause severe injuries. The result is that many horses are forced to retire after just a few races due to injury.
The sport is also characterized by high levels of turnover. Many Thoroughbreds are bought and sold multiple times during their racing careers in races called claiming races. This happens because the horse’s original owner gives up ownership rights for a set amount of money. The horse may then be leased or sold to another owner who then claims the right to ride it for the remainder of its career.
Despite these flaws, many people still enjoy watching and betting on horse races around the world. In the United States alone, there are more than 400 racetracks and over 23,000 horse owners. Veteran gamblers know that it is impossible to win every single race, and the odds are always against you. Front-runners break a leg, jockeys fall, and champion thoroughbreds decide they simply aren’t in the mood to race. The sport has been compared to animated roulette, and it is indeed dangerous for both the horses and the gamblers. But the stewards who oversee the horse race are making progress in ensuring the sport is safe.