Horse races are contests of speed or stamina between horses that take place over a set distance on a flat track. They can be run over a variety of distances from short sprint races to long routes (sometimes called staying races in Europe), although the majority are in the middle of this range and are generally considered tests of both speed and endurance to some extent.
Racing has long been dominated by wealthy owners and trainers who can afford to spend lavishly on horses and jockeys. As a result, the sport has often been criticized for its lack of discipline and corrupt practices. However, in recent years, growing public awareness and pressure has led to a number of improvements for horse welfare and safety.
In the United States, horse race regulations vary widely from state to state. While there are some national standards such as a ban on the use of whips during a race, a horse’s health and safety can still be compromised by trainers who seek to win the most money by pushing their horses to the limits. For example, it is common for a horse to become so exhausted during a race that it starts bleeding from its lungs (exertion-induced pulmonary hemorrhage). In order to prevent this from happening, many horses are given cocktails of legal and illegal drugs including Lasix or Salix, a diuretic with performance-enhancing qualities, and phenytoin, which is an antipsychotic.
During the first decades of the 21st century, horse racing was experiencing a decline in popularity. This was due to a combination of factors including declining gambling revenue, rising prices for betting and admission tickets, increasing competition from other sports such as football and Formula 1, and animal-welfare concerns.
As a result of declining interest in the sport, horse races have been reduced in number and prize money. The sport has also suffered from a decrease in attendance at racecourses.
Horseracing’s governing body, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), has taken steps to address these problems. It has established a new board which will replace the triumvirate that previously made decisions on behalf of the BHA. The board is also bringing in new rules aimed at improving the welfare of horses.
Horses in modern-day horse races are primarily Thoroughbreds, although Quarter Horses are also used. In all but a few steeplechases, a horse’s pedigree is important for its eligibility to compete. Its sire and dam must both be purebred members of the breed it is racing. The BHA has developed a system of weights that are assigned to the competing horses, with allowances such as age and sex being provided for some races. These are called handicap races. The BHA’s goal is to ensure that the best horse wins.