Horse racing is a sport in which horses compete to be the first to cross a finish line. The race is run over a set distance of a flat track (usually dirt), or in a steeplechase (which involves jumping). The race is regulated by national horse racing bodies. Several different types of races are held, including sprints and long-distance events such as the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes). The winner receives a fixed amount of prize money. In the early days of horse racing, all races were winner-take-all; later, second and third place prizes were added.
In most flat races, each horse is given a specific weight to carry as a way of determining fairness between competing horses. This weight is determined by a formula based on the horses’ pedigree, age, and training. A horse may also be assigned a handicap on the day of the race based on its current performance. These weights and handicaps are intended to counteract the classic assumption that the best horse should win every race.
Many people enjoy watching horse races. The horses’ beauty and power draw crowds to grandstands, where bettors clad in floppy hats and sequins cheer their favorite horses by name. The roar of the crowd and the rhythm of the horses’ gallops create a hypnotic spectacle. However, behind the glamorous facade of horse racing lies a world of drug abuse, injuries, and death.
Horses are trained to be pushed beyond their limits. This makes them prone to break down and suffer from painful, often fatal injuries such as pulmonary hemorrhage. They are also frequently injected with cocktails of legal and illegal drugs designed to mask their pain and enhance their performance. Antipsychotics, antiepilepsy medications, growth hormones, blood doping—racing officialdom lacked the ability to detect many of these substances and the penalties were usually light.
The horse race is a popular activity in many countries around the world, with major races such as the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, and to a lesser extent, the Belmont Stakes, drawing large crowds. The sport has a wide range of betting opportunities, with wagers placed on the winners of each race and, more rarely, on the winner of multiple races, known as a multi-race exotic.
The rules of horse racing vary between different nations and tracks, although the vast majority are based on the British Horseracing Authority’s original rulebook. In general, all horse races must be started from a starting stall or gate, with the exception of jump races and steeplechases, which may be started from a start box with special permission or a flag. A horse is deemed to have completed the course when its rider crosses the finish line. In the event that two or more horses cross the finish line simultaneously, a photo finish is declared. In a photo finish, the photograph of the finishing line is studied by stewards to determine which horse finished first.