Horse racing is a sport that relies on the brute force of horses to race at speeds that can cause severe injuries and even death. Behind the romanticized facade of spectators in fancy outfits sipping mint juleps is a world of drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter.
During the Middle Ages, English knights returning from the Crusades brought swift Arab horses back to their homes where they were bred with English mares. The result was the Thoroughbred, a breed that had both speed and endurance. The nobility would wager privately on match races between these horses.
In modern times, the sport has largely been dominated by a few racetracks and wealthy owners who purchase horses to run in races. Spectators show up to watch the action from the grandstands or ringside. The most prestigious races, such as the Triple Crown series (Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes and Kentucky Derby), are held on tracks with large purses.
The first organized horse races in North America began with colonial commander Richard Nicolls laying out a race course in New Amsterdam. Nicolls modeled the race after British horse races, which put an emphasis on stamina rather than speed. It wasn’t until after the Civil War that speed became the hallmark of excellence for American Thoroughbreds.
While there is a lot of money at stake in a horse race, there is also a great deal of corruption in the industry. A lack of regulation allows the use of illegal drugs to enhance performance and mask pain. The resulting injuries are often debilitating for the horses. Many of these injured horses are sold to new owners without the new owner disclosing the injury. Then, the injured horses end up at auction where they can be sold for slaughter.
A horse’s performance in a horse race is affected by the amount of weight it must carry, the number of runners in the race and if the race is handicapped. A handicap race is a type of race where the runners are assigned different amounts of weight for fairness. The weights are determined either centrally or by each track.
Throughout the course of a horse race, a jockey rides the horse while navigating a designated course and jumping hurdles if there are any. Whether the horse is a favorite or long shot, it is important for the jockey to handle the animal in a manner that ensures its safety. Ideally, the rider will guide the horse to victory.
A win in a horse race is known as “being in the money.” This means that the winner receives all of the money wagered on that particular race, after a deduction for the take-out by the track. The top three finishers in a race are awarded a percentage of the total pool, as well as a trophy. A second-place finish is known as being in the exacta, and a third-place finish is called a straight bet. Other types of exotic wagers include a ‘buy the race’, which is placing a bet on every horse running in a race, and an accumulator, which is similar to a parlay but requires the player to correctly pick the winner in each of the races included in the exotic.