A horse race is a competition in which horses are driven at speed over a course that usually includes several turns. The horse that crosses the finish line first wins the race and receives a prize, known as a purse. A number of other horses may also win prizes, depending on the particular rules of the race. A horse that does not finish the race is disqualified and subject to further penalties. There are several different types of horse races, including flat races, steeplechases, and hurdle races. The winner of a horse race is usually awarded the most money, although some races award prizes to all of the top three horses.
The word “race” derives from the Latin verb rovinare, meaning to run. The sport of horse racing has long been considered a popular pastime in many countries, and it was once among the most popular spectator sports in the United States. Today, however, horse racing is a declining industry, and only 1 to 2 percent of American adults list it as their favorite sport. The main reason is that horses are expensive to raise and breed, and their racing careers are relatively short. They reach their peak performance at the age of five or six, and escalating breeding fees, sale prices, and racing purses have led to fewer races being run with horses older than that.
In the nineteenth century, races pitted Northern and Southern champions against each other. One English traveler noted that such races roused more public interest than a presidential election. The Civil War helped to promote thoroughbred breeding in the United States, as Union officials sought fast horses for their cavalry forces.
When bettors walk a horse through the walking ring before a race, they look at the animal’s coat to see whether it is bright and shiny, and if it looks healthy and strong. Then, they place their bets.
If a horse begins to stumble or lose ground, its rider must signal to the stewards that it is not in the best condition to continue. If the rider fails to comply with instructions from the stewards, the horse is disqualified and subjected to further penalties, including having its race entry forfeited.
Horse races often involve a large number of horses, and it is impossible to know how many will be injured or die during a given race. Nonetheless, the vast majority of horses that complete a race do so safely and come home unharmed. In some cases, a horse may be euthanized if it is found to have sustained a serious injury that is unlikely to improve or heal. These decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, and are determined by the stewards of each racetrack. The decision to euthanize is never taken lightly, and the decision must always be made after consideration of the welfare and safety of the horse.