What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest of speed and stamina between two or more horses. The sport has evolved from primitive contests to a modern spectacle involving large fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, enormous sums of money and countless spectators. But the fundamental feature of a horse race remains unchanged: whoever crosses the finish line first wins.

Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred racing is a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. Pushed beyond their limits, horses sprint-often under the threat of whips and even illegal electric shock devices-at speeds that frequently cause them to sustain injuries such as bleeds from the lungs. They are also regularly given cocktail drugs designed to mask the pain of running and artificially enhance their performance.

The most famous horse races include the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, the Melbourne Cup and Caulfield Cup in Australia, the Gran Premio Internacional Carlos Pellegrini in Argentina, the Wellington and Durban Cups in New Zealand and South Africa, the Arima Memorial in Japan and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in England. Some are graded, meaning the racing secretary or track handicapper assigns weights to equalize the chances of entrants. The higher the grade, the better the quality of the horses.

Horse races are regulated by a patchwork of laws across the dozens of states in which they are held. These regulations govern everything from the use of whips during a race to the types of medications allowed to be administered to horses during training. This creates a very different dynamic from most major sports leagues in the United States, which have one set of standards and rules for all participants.

During a horse race, bettors place wagers on which horse will win the race. The most common bets are a bet to win, bet to place and bet to show. Bets to win pay out if the selected horse comes in first place, bet to place pays out if the horse finishes either first or second and bet to show pays out if the horse finishes first, second or third.

In addition to betting on the winner of a race, bettors can also place exotic wagers such as a daily double and pick six. A daily double involves picking the winners of two consecutive races. A pick six is a more challenging bet, which requires players to select the winners of all six races. A successful pick six can result in a huge payday, but if a player misses just one race it will be considered a loss. The payouts for winning bettors are determined by the parimutuel system, which subtracts a certain percentage of winning wagers from the total amount wagered. A consolation payout, called a takeout, is then distributed to bettors who do not make a full winning selection. These payouts are typically much smaller than the full payouts.