What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a competition in which horses are ridden and bets placed on their chances of winning. It is one of the oldest sports and has evolved into a modern spectacle involving large fields, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and enormous sums of money. Its basic concept, however, remains the same—the horse that crosses the finish line first is declared the winner.

As a sport, horse racing requires the skill of handlers, trainers, and veterinarians in addition to the talents of jockeys. It is a dangerous sport that can lead to serious injuries, including head trauma and severe fractures. The sport also puts heavy stress on the muscles, joints, and ligaments of the horses.

In addition to physical demands, the sport can be emotionally stressful for the horses, as well. They are trucked, shipped, and flown from country to country, state to state, and racetrack to racetrack, so they rarely develop any kind of bond with one person or other horses. Moreover, they may be in training for years before they reach their peak performance and begin competing in high-profile races. As a result, they are often irritable, confused, and prone to biting and kicking.

The industry has responded to rising public concern over animal welfare by instituting a variety of reforms, including mandatory veterinary inspection of all horses prior to racing and the use of an anti-inflammatory drug known as Lasix that decreases the risk of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. But horse racing has also been plagued with drugs and doping, as many trainers seek to mask injury, disguise a lameness, or increase a horse’s endurance by using cocktails of legal and illegal substances.

For example, in 2008 the trainer of Big Brown, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, publicly boasted about the powerful legal steroid that his star was on to mask pain and enhance his performance. In the era before widespread testing, racing officials could not keep up with new medications and did not have the capacity to test for them. In addition, a trainer punished for doping in one jurisdiction could simply move to the next.

Nevertheless, the sport continues to thrive despite these challenges, in part because of technological advances. The advent of digital imaging has made it possible for racetracks to monitor horses’ temperatures and heart rates in real time, while MRI scanners, endoscopes, and 3D printing have helped track the health of horses on and off the track. These changes have allowed horses to be withdrawn from the field more quickly when they are unwell, as has been done in many major sports, and have contributed to safer racing conditions. In addition, television coverage of horse racing has expanded to the point that TVG now has a 24/7 channel that features live racing around the world. It is available on most cable packages.