A horse race is a contest of speed or stamina between two or more horses. Over the centuries the basic contest has morphed into a complex spectacle featuring large fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment and enormous sums of money, but at its core the horse race remains one of the world’s oldest sports.
The first recorded races were match races between two horses with the owners providing a purse; bets were placed and the winner was determined by whichever horse crossed the finish line first. These agreements were documented by disinterested third parties known as keepers of the match book; Newmarket in England was home to such a keeper, who began publishing An Historical List of All Horse-Matches Run (1729). The sport evolved into open events that included multiple runners and rules governing eligibility for entrants based on age, sex, birthplace and previous performance. Races were also categorized as handicaps in which the racing secretary assigns weights designed to equalize the winning chances of entrants.
Horse racing expanded into a major global industry with the introduction of betting, which led to state governments embracing it as a potential honey pot. In exchange for legalized gambling, states agreed to tax racing revenues. This arrangement was a win-win for private investors and government tax collectors, and it fueled expansion. The popularity of the sport reached a high point after World War II. However, by the early 21st century it had slipped down the rankings of spectator sports and has struggled to regain its footing.
While the sport has been criticised for its reliance on gambling and the practice of doping, horse race enthusiasts remain convinced that the “Sport of Kings” represents an enduringly popular and exciting form of entertainment. Some of these fans argue that the sport should be regulated to eliminate doping and overbreeding, but others feel that the basic contest of speed or stamina is timeless and that even with such measures the sport will retain its appeal.
An expert review of horse racing reveals that while the winning time of a horse has improved over the years, this improvement is not as great as might be expected if the inherent physical ability of the species were being tapped. This discrepancy may be due to a variety of factors including improvements in nutrition and esoteric factors such as genetic gain through selective breeding (Gaffney & Cunningham 1988).
The sport has become an extremely competitive environment, with owners seeking to increase the number of wins they achieve to enhance their standing and earn higher prize money. In addition to the usual wagering on winners, there are a wide range of exotic bets that can be made on individual horses and the overall race. An example of this is the pick 3 where the player selects three horses to win a race. Each horse’s odds are assessed at the time of the bet and if a particular selection is offered at an advantageous price to the punter it is considered an overlay.