Horse racing is one of the oldest sports and its basic concept has not changed much over the centuries. It has evolved from a primitive contest of speed and stamina between two horses into an elaborate public entertainment business that involves huge fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and enormous sums of money, but it remains essentially the same sport it always was.
The sport is regulated by national and international laws that set minimum standards for horse welfare, and it is subject to regular inspections by independent inspectors and veterinary surgeons. Horses are constantly monitored for signs of injury and illness both during and after races, with injuries being recorded and reported to veterinary authorities.
During a race, a jockey on a horse must travel around the course and cross the finish line first to win. A steward can declare a dead heat when two or more horses cross the finish line at the same time, and in these cases, the winner is determined by examining a snapshot of the photofinish with a camera that detects the slightest differences in speed and distance traveled between the competing horses.
As the sport has grown and developed into a multibillion-dollar global enterprise, technology has made horse racing more complex than ever. Thermal imaging cameras can detect if a horse is overheating post-race, MRI scanners and X-rays can spot an array of minor or major health issues that might not be apparent to the naked eye, and 3D printing has allowed for the creation of casts, splints, and prosthetics for injured or ill horses.
There are many different kinds of horse races, ranging from flat sprints to long-distance endurance events. Some of the most famous races include the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, the Melbourne Cup and Sydney Cup in Australia, the Caulfield and Newmarket Cups in Britain, the Argentine Gran Premio Internacional Carlos Pellegrini, and the Wellington and Durban July in South Africa. The American Thoroughbred is the most common breed of racehorse and was developed to be a fast, powerful, and elegant animal.
The earliest races were match races between two or at most three horses, with the owners providing the purse and bettors making their wagers by laying money on a particular outcome of the race. These agreements were recorded by disinterested third parties who became known as keepers of the match books, and one of the most influential of these was John Cheny’s An Historical List of All the Horse-Matches Run (1729). It was from this early system that horse racing grew into an internationally-renowned industry with an extensive network of racetracks and betting markets. The sport has a rich heritage to draw from, but it must now face a future in which people and animals recognize that all horses are entitled to a full and healthy life. If not, the fate of Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keepthename, Creative Plan, and all of their fellow runners may be a lot like that of their unfortunate forebears.