A horse race is a sporting event in which horses compete over a set course of one to three miles. The first two or three finishers receive a prize of varying amounts, depending on the type of race and its classification. Most races are Thoroughbred races, in which large mature horses with stamina are preferred over speed, but smaller and less-mature horses can also race and win. Many horse races are handicap races, in which the fixed weights that horses must carry in a race are adjusted for age, distance, sex and other factors.
In North America, horse racing is a multi-billion dollar industry, and the sport is a major tourist attraction at major tracks. However, it is also a very dangerous sport. The combination of high speeds and hard surfaces can lead to catastrophic injuries for even the best trained horses. In fact, one study found that in the United States alone, at least three thoroughbreds die every day from injury sustained during a race.
The vast majority of horses that race are injured at some point in their careers. Some suffer minor setbacks and never return to form, while others are injured so severely that they are unable to recover from their injuries and must be euthanized. Injuries are common in horse racing, and the traumatic nature of the sport can result in a range of symptoms including lameness, fractures, tetanus, neurological damage and paralysis.
Despite these dangers, most horse owners and trainers take great care to ensure their horses’ safety. Before a race, the horses undergo multiple, comprehensive vet exams and inspections. The most serious injuries are typically caused by falls or collisions, and in some cases the severity of an injury can render a horse unfit to continue racing. Injuries to the head, back or neck are particularly devastating for a racehorse and often have lasting effects.
After an initial inspection, the horses are led into the paddock, a section of the track where jockeys (riders) mount, and parade them past an official for verification of their identity. After the stewards approve the horses to race, the horses are ushered to the starting gate, which is electrically operated at most tracks. The start of a race is monitored by a team of stewards and patrol judges, aided by a video camera. After the race, the stewards announce the results and any penalties.
There are essentially three kinds of people in horse racing: The cheaters, who dangerously drug their horses or countenance such behavior from their agents; the dupes, who labor under the fantasy that the sport is broadly fair and honest; and the masses in the middle, honorable souls who know it is crooked but don’t give their all to fix it. It is this last group, the silent majority, that we must enlist to push for serious reform.