Horse racing is one of the oldest of all sports, yet it has remained virtually unchanged over centuries. It began as a primitive contest of speed and stamina between two horses and has since grown into an enormous public-entertainment industry with sophisticated monitoring equipment and huge sums of money at stake. Although horse races have evolved from chariot races to the modern thoroughbred race, the sport’s basic concept remains intact: a horse that finishes first is declared the winner.
The horses are positioned in their starting stalls or behind the gate (in special cases, with permission, a flag may be used instead of a gate). When the start of a race is signaled, the gates open and the race begins. The horses compete against each other for a specified amount of prize money by following a prescribed course and jumping any hurdles along the way.
Before the race starts, each horse is fitted with a saddle and bridle by its trainer. The jockey, who is attached to the horse by a bridle or strap called a shank, helps guide the horse as it travels down the racetrack. Jockeys also help to steer the horse, directing it into and out of the turns and around the stretch (or home stretch).
To win a race, a horse must cross the finish line first. If two or more horses finish at the same time, a photo finish is performed to determine the winner. The stewards carefully examine the photo and make a decision. If it is impossible to determine a winner, the two or more horses are awarded a share of the prize money.
At the track, many people gather to watch the races from the grandstands or private suites. However, the majority of fans are working-class men who sit in the bowels of the grandstand and watch the race on television. As the horses gallop past, they roar and clap in support of their favorite runners. The chants often include curses, which can be heard in both Spanish and Chinese.
While there are some horse race fanatics who swear that a good jockey will always win, the truth is that it takes a great deal of skill and experience to ride a fast, well-handled horse. The fact is that horses can be abused and mistreated while under the care of a trainer, causing them to break down. A horse who is “over-raced” can become so exhausted that it must be euthanized or sent to the slaughterhouse, where it will die an inhumane and brutal death. Random drug testing is in place, but this hardly deters the large number of unscrupulous trainers who over-medicate and over-train their horses, sending them to the slaughterhouse. Fortunately, there are a handful of independent nonprofit rescues and individual advocates who network, fundraise, and work tirelessly to save these horses from a horrific fate. They are a small but vital group of individuals who deserve our support.