Horse races have been a part of human culture for thousands of years. But behind the romanticized facade of people in fancy outfits sipping mint juleps and horses running for their lives, there is a dark side: Horse racing involves urging these animals to breakneck speeds that cause them serious injuries and even hemorrhaging from their lungs. Despite this, the sport continues to thrive.
In order to race, a horse must meet a series of strict requirements. To start, it must have a pedigree, meaning it must have a father and mother who are purebreds of the same breed. The horse must also be a certain age in order to compete. As the cost of breeding, stud fees and sale prices continue to climb, more and more horses are being trained to race before they are five years old.
Those horses who do qualify to race must then be trained by jockeys and veterinarians. They are then conditioned to the racetrack, which is often an extremely abrasive surface, in order to prepare them for the race. One of the most important aspects of training a horse for a race is to teach it how to “stretch” out its stride, which means that it will be able to maintain its speed over a long distance. During the stretch or homestretch of a race, a horse will typically run a few furlongs longer than usual, which can make it difficult to win if a jockey does not adjust their horse’s pace.
Once the race begins, officials called Stewards monitor the race to ensure that all rules are followed by both horses and jockeys. If a foul is committed, the Stewards may disqualify the offending horse from the race. In addition, the officials may review a race after it is over in order to check for possible infractions. This is known as an inquiry, and if judges find a foul took place, they will change the official order of finish on the toteboard.
Aside from ensuring that all rules are being followed, Stewards also monitor the performance of each horse during the race. They are looking for signs of lameness, which is an injury to a horse’s hoof, as well as other issues that may affect the safety and fairness of the race. They are aided by a group of on-track officials, who are responsible for watching the horses and helping out with any technical difficulties that might arise.
While some people are familiar with flat-course horse races, there is a whole slew of different types of horse racing to learn about. Some of the most popular include: