A horse race is a competition in which horses compete over a fixed distance, typically measured in yards or miles. Horses are ridden by jockeys, who try to guide them around the course as quickly and safely as possible. The horse that crosses the finish line first is deemed to be the winner of the race. Often, races have a prize money pool, which is split between the top three finishers. The early contests were match races between two or more horses, a bet made by private parties with the owners of the horses providing the purse (prize money). Later, betting was centralized through bookmaking or pari-mutuel betting. This is where a large number of bettors share the total amount bet on the top three places, with a percentage being retained by the track management.
A major element in modern horse racing is the use of handicaps to make the races more competitive for the horses, even though it repudiates the classic concept that the best-performing horse should win. These handicaps are assigned to all of the horses in a race, and they are designed to render each horse as nearly equal as possible in terms of its ability to compete and win. These handicaps are usually based on the horse’s previous performance in similar races, and are recorded by disinterested third parties known as keepers of the record.
Before a race begins, the horses are positioned in their stalls or behind a starting gate. When the gate opens, the stewards or officials determine which horse broke the plane of the starting line first, and this is determined by examining a photograph of the start. If the stewards are unable to decide which horse broke the plane first, the race is declared a dead heat and both horses receive the same award.
During the race, the stewards or officials watch the horses as they run around the course and jump all of the hurdles (if present). The stewards then declare a winner. A jockey who carries a mount for the entire race is considered to have ridden the horse well, and he or she may win a special award for doing so.
While some people find horse racing to be an exciting and lucrative form of entertainment, others find the sport demeaning to animals. The industry is plagued with gruesome breakdowns, injuries, and drug abuse. Moreover, there are allegations of animal cruelty in the form of abusive training practices for young horses and the transport of these horses to foreign slaughterhouses. This is why many people have taken a stand against horse racing, and the numbers of races have dropped dramatically in recent years. The growing awareness of these issues will only continue to erode the sport’s popularity and revenue.