A horse race is a contest between two or more horses run at a specified distance. The winner receives a prize money. Depending on the particular race, the first and second finishers may also receive additional amounts.
A race begins when a jockey, who is seated on the horse in front of him, crosses the starting line and takes off at a speed determined by the track. He then rides the horse through a prescribed course, jumping hurdles, if present. Generally, the rider is not allowed to change his pace or restrain the horse.
In the United States, most races are held on weekends and are regulated by a licensing system. A licensed jockey must be 18 years of age or older to compete and be a resident of the state where the race is held.
Historically, most races were match races between two or more horses, with the owners providing a purse (a sum of money) for each entry. The bets were recorded in a match book, which was usually compiled by an impartial third party. The owner who withdrew the match bet, however, forfeited half of the purse.
There were also match races between three or four horses, with each owner committing to pay the other two bettors on the winning horse. These were often referred to as ‘picks’ or ‘parimutuels’.
Horses start racing when they are still very young, usually between the ages of three and five. Their skeletal systems are not yet fully developed, so they must endure a lifetime of stresses and injuries before their athletic peak is achieved.
The stress of the racing schedule, combined with performance-enhancing drug misuse, creates an ill-tempered and unregulated sport that is a major contributor to the equine population’s overall health problems. In addition, many injured horses are not able to be rehabilitated and return to racing, resulting in an increasing number of fatalities among racehorses.
The AVMA, which represents American veterinarians, has been working to make changes in the way horse racing is conducted and how it affects the well-being of both horses and riders. In its most recent meeting in January, the AVMA voted to endorse a resolution against unregulated horse racing, which is known as “sanctioned” or “unregulated.” It said that the practice poses a serious threat to the welfare of horses and their riders.