A horse race is a sport in which horses compete over a set distance on a flat or over a course of jumps. The horses may be ridden or driven and may compete on turf, dirt, sand, or synthetic materials. The winner of a horse race is awarded a prize which usually includes money and a trophy. Horse racing has a long and distinguished history and is popular in many countries around the world. It also has a number of famous jockeys, trainers, breeders, and owners.
A number of technological advancements have impacted the sport, including improved training techniques and equipment. These technologies are used both to improve the performance of the horse and to increase safety for the participants. Several safety initiatives are currently in place, including the use of MRI scanners and X-rays for post-race examinations. Additionally, new thermal imaging cameras allow for better detection of heat exhaustion and injuries in the field.
Horse races are governed by a variety of rules and regulations, primarily relating to the breeding and training of the animals. In general, only certain types of horses are allowed to race and each must be accepted into a specific breed before competing in a race. Several stud books are used to establish this status.
The history of horse races is very long, spanning numerous cultures and civilizations. Archaeological evidence indicates that horse racing was practiced in ancient Greece, Rome, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. The sport became very popular in medieval Europe, when it was often accompanied by gambling and drinking.
Modern horse racing got its start in England at the settlement of Newmarket, which had hosted races since the 12th century. During the 1600s, these races evolved into the first organized horse races. The sport spread across the Atlantic Ocean and took hold in North America, where horses of various breeds began to race.
In the United States, races are typically held on dirt tracks. Individual flat races can be either sprints or longer routes, depending on the track and region. Generally, shorter races are regarded as tests of speed, while longer races are considered to be tests of stamina.
In jumps races, the difficulty of a race is often based on the length of the course and the arrangement of obstacles. Generally, the course is steeper for longer races and the height of the obstacles is higher for more difficult races. Jumps horses progress in their careers by moving up the grades, starting with National Hunt flat races as juveniles and then, if thought capable, moving on to hurdling and steeplechasing. These horses may also be given a weight allowance in some races. This helps even the playing field for less-favored horses.