Horse racing is a popular pastime with a long history. Its origins are uncertain, but it may be traced back to chariot races in the Greek Olympic Games of 700 to 40 B.C. The sport later developed into modern thoroughbred horse races, which feature a number of different wagering options, including the pari-mutuel system. In this system, winning bettors receive all money wagered on a specific race, after a deduction of a percentage by the track (Take Out).
The race industry claims that horses are “born to run, love to compete.” But in reality, these animals understand only self-preservation. They do not enjoy being compelled to race by humans perched on their backs with whips, and they certainly do not relish running at breakneck speeds. In the wild, horses know when they are injured and seek rest. At the racetrack, horses are forced to continue at speed, often in close quarters, which can cause horrific injuries and breakdowns.
A broken leg, for example, can stop a horse in its tracks. This is a major setback, especially if the injury occurs early in the race. Injuries to the heel of a hoof or a suspensory ligament, which supports the distal limb, can also prevent a horse from running. The pounding and jarring of horses’ feet over short distances can lead to heaves, which is a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid and interfere with breathing.
Heaves, like other common injuries in horse racing, are caused by horses being forced to run fast over very hard surfaces. They can be prevented by using soft, spongy surfaces on which horses are allowed to walk and trot. Soft, spongy surfaces also help horses avoid injuries to their joints and bones, as well as the tendons that support their feet.
Many horse races are held only for horses under three years of age, as they are believed to be at their peak performance at this time. However, the escalation of breeding fees and sale prices, as well as purses, has led to fewer races for older horses. The renowned Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, the Belmont Stakes and Preakness Stakes in the United States, and the Caulfield and Sydney cups in Australia are among the few elite races that admit older horses.
In addition to a horse’s innate desire to run, it is influenced by a variety of factors in the race itself and in the training process, including the jockey’s position in the starting gates, the ‘going’ of the track, tactics used by the jockey and trainer, and the amount of weight carried by each runner.
A jockey’s skill and judgment in coaxing a few extra yards out of a horse is what makes a difference between a horse finishing first, second, or third. Other factors that determine a horse’s chances of winning include the prevailing weather, the type of race, and the number of runners in a race.