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What is a Horse Race?

horse race

A horse race is a sport in which horses compete against each other over fixed distances. These races are usually divided into two types: sprints and long-distance races.

The oldest continuous horse race in the world is a city street race called the Carlisle Bell that has been held since 1599. Another is the Palio in Siena that began in 1633.


The sport of horse racing has evolved from a primitive contest of speed and stamina to an enormous public-entertainment event, but the basic concept has remained unchanged. The horse that crosses the finish line first wins.

Wild horses were first tamed on the steppes of Central Asia some 6,000 years ago, and people developed the techniques to harness them into chariots and two-wheeled carts. Four-hitch chariot races and bareback mounted races were popular events at the Olympic Games of ancient Greece from 700 to 40 B.C.

European racing took off after Crusading knights brought back fast-paced Arabian, Barb, and Turk horses. Thoroughbreds were the result of breeding these imported stallions with native English mares. Today, the pedigrees of all thoroughbreds can be traced to three stallions — Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian, and Godolphin Arabian — and 43 “royal” mares.


Horse races have a variety of rules and regulations to help keep the sport safe. These include a ban on the use of whips, which can cause pain and injuries to the horses. In addition, the sport uses a variety of advanced technology to monitor horse health and safety. These include thermal imaging cameras, MRI scanners, and 3D printers that can produce casts for injured horses.

The bipartisan Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act passed in 2020 was prompted by a spike in racetrack breakdowns (including 30 horses at Santa Anita Park in 2019) and medication scandals (2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit and trainer Bob Baffert among them). HISA is intended to set a national standard for thoroughbred racing.


Horse races are a thrilling sport that involves horses and jockeys navigating around a track while jumping any hurdles or fences that may be in the way. This is a test of speed and endurance, and if a horse can make it over the finish line first, they win the race.

Before the race begins, the horses are positioned in stalls or behind a starting gate. Once the race is over, stewards determine which horse won by examining a photo of the finish line.

Medication rules in horse racing have evolved through the years to help ensure a level playing field and protect the health of the animal. These rules also help to prevent the use of performance-enhancing drugs.


After PETA exposed that leading trainer Steve Asmussen drugged sore, injured horses to mask pain and make them run faster, a new law was passed requiring stricter medication oversight. However, many other racing-related injuries still occur, including limb fractures and laminitis, an often debilitating hoof disease that causes horses to be euthanized.

The modelling results demonstrate that greater horse age, better finishing position, and firmer track surfaces are associated with increased estimated bone fatigue damage per race. This is in line with previous risk factor studies. These findings suggest that substantial intra-horse variation exists in accumulated fatigue damage per race and requires further research to understand why.


The use of drugs in horse racing is controversial. Some are banned, but others can be used legally to enhance performance. Examples include Lasix, a medication that reduces exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. Other medications can also be used to manipulate a horse’s behavior. They can affect how a race is wagered and have an impact on the winner.

Drug testing is difficult for equine laboratories. The number of samples that must be tested has grown. These tests involve the use of chromatographic methods to identify substances. In addition, a series of calibration and cleaning procedures are required to ensure the accuracy of results. The process takes a great deal of time and requires special equipment.


No horse should die for gambling profits. Yet after their racing career ends, few racehorses are “turned out to pasture.” They are crowded onto slaughter trucks at livestock auctions and are sold by middlemen known as “kill buyers.”

Most of these horses end up in slaughter plants in Mexico and Canada. Because they are not raised for food, and given medications that are illegal to use on food animals, the meat produced from these slaughtered equines can carry drug residues and pose a health risk to people who consume it.

Covert footage shot by Animal Aid shows that rules designed to prevent a cruel death appear to be routinely breached in the slaughterhouses. We urge the adoption of national standards and a lifetime traceability system for racehorses.

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