Horse races are held all over the world, with many different kinds of tracks. Some are held in the United States, some in Europe, and others in Asia, Australia, and Africa. Some are geared for spectators, while others are more like competitive events. The sport has a long history, and it has been an important part of human culture for thousands of years.
The most common type of horse race is a flat-course event. These are typically held on oval tracks, which have dirt, grass, or asphalt surfaces. They feature long straights, turns, and a finishing stretch. Some are open to all horses, while others are restricted to specific breeds or are handicapped.
In a handicap race, horses are given weights based on their previous performances. This is meant to level the playing field and allow a wider variety of horses to win. The weights are set either centrally or by individual tracks, and they may be adjusted during the course of a race.
During a race, a horse’s speed is determined by its stride, which is the distance between successive imprints of one foot on the track. In addition, a horse’s jockey, or rider, is responsible for urging it to run fast and guiding it to victory.
A horse’s lower legs take a brutal pounding in racing, straining ligaments, tendons, and joints. Often, a horse’s hind legs will begin to ache or even fracture in the final furlong of the race, known as the home stretch. Consequently, the horses have to be specially prepared for this aspect of the race.
Before the Civil War, Thoroughbred racehorses were tested for stamina rather than speed. After that, speed became the standard. As a result, the most successful racehorses were bred and trained to be fast.
A racehorse achieves its peak performance around the age of five. This is the classic age for thoroughbreds, and it is at this time that trainers begin to prepare them for their career. This preparation includes a series of tests designed to measure a horse’s physical and mental readiness to race.
Despite the romanticized facade of horse racing, it is not a sport without its share of injuries and drug abuse. Behind the scenes, horses are forced to sprint — often under the threat of whips and illegal electric shock devices — at speeds that cause them to sustain numerous injuries and even hemorrhage from their lungs. Powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories that are abused for their side effects in humans also find their way into race-day preparations. The use of steroids, growth hormones, blood doping, and other drugs has become commonplace. Many racing officials cannot keep up with the new medications, and penalties for breaking rules are often weak. As a result, racehorses are constantly being injured and killed. The sport is in crisis.