A horse race is a sporting event in which horses compete for the best time around a track. Horse races may be run on the flat or over a course of jumps, and on turf, sand, or synthetic materials. Depending on the region and the type of race, the horses may be ridden or driven, and a wide variety of tack and other gear is used in horse racing. Spectators at a horse race frequently place bets on the outcome of the race, making racing a very profitable industry for bookies.
The practice of racing horses is ancient. Numerous cultures have held various forms of the horse race, from the Greek and Roman chariot races to the Bedouin endurance races in the Arabian desert. Modern horse racing got its start at Newmarket, a settlement in England which has hosted horse races since the 12th century. In the 1600s, Newmarket became the center of British horse racing and breeding, with much of the work which resulted in the development of the Thoroughbred horse taking place in Newmarket.
Typically, the breeding of a horse is critical in a horse races. Many races around the world are restricted to specific breeds, such as Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, or Quarter Horses. Thoroughbred horse racing is by far the dominant industry, with Thoroughbred tracks all over the world. Horses must usually be accepted into a breed and given papers before they can race, with several stud books being used to determine which horses are purebred and which are not.
A horse race can be very dangerous for both horses and their riders, known as jockeys. Racing at high speed exposes horses to the risk of falls and injuries, and many horses are raced before they are fully mature, putting them in danger of developmental disorders. Cracked leg bones and hooves are an especially common in racing, due to the immense pressure put on the legs and feet of a horse on the track.
The difficulty of a horse race is usually determined by the length of the course. Races on sloped courses are more difficult, as are races on longer courses which test speed and stamina. In steeplechase races where horses are taken over jumps, difficulty can be adjusted by altering the height and arrangement of jumps. In all cases, the owner of the winning horse is awarded a purse which consists of a cash prize and a trophy.
This international industry has a number of equine superstars, as well as well-known jockeys, owners, breeders, and trainers. Some horses travel internationally to compete in prestigious events, and horses are regularly shipped all over the world for breeding and sale.
Some people criticize the practice of racing horses, arguing that it is inhumane, or that the sport has become corrupted as a result of doping and overbreeding. Others feel that the “Sport of Kings,” as horse racing is sometimes called, represents the pinnacle of achievement for the competitors, and that while the industry may need reform, it is fundamentally sound.