Horse racing is a sport where a group of horses compete against each other over a set distance. The game is popular worldwide and the most prestigious races have large purses. The sport dates back to ancient times, and the earliest written manuals on horse racing date from around 1500 bc. Originally, races were match contests between two horses over 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) heats. Pressure from the public led to longer, more complex events that required the skills and judgment of a good jockey.
Horses in a race are forced to sprint-often under the threat of whips and even illegal electric shocking devices-at speeds so fast that they frequently sustain injuries such as hemorrhage from the lungs. In addition, many horses are injected with cocktails of legal and illegal drugs intended to mask injuries and enhance performance. One study found that at least one thoroughbred dies every day from an injury sustained in a race. Seabiscuit died at age 14; Man o’ War, the greatest racehorse of all time, died at age 26.
The race procedure starts when the jockeys, as riders are called, weigh in and then parade their horses into the paddock for instructions from their trainers. Then the horses are saddled and led past an official for inspection. Some of the horses may be examined for any claimed rule infractions and saliva and urine samples are taken for drug testing. The horse with the lowest weight wins.
On a warm spring morning in Maryland, eleven horses lined up to enter the starting gate at Pimlico racetrack. A jockey climbed aboard the big chestnut colt Mongolian Groom, who seemed relaxed and ready to go. The 68,500 spectators cheered and the jockeys waved their whips.
The horses accelerated as they headed down the backstretch. War of Will was in the lead, hugging the rail. But on the far turn, it became clear that he was tiring. His jockey, Abel Cedillo, used the whip to urge him on. But by the clubhouse turn, McKinzie and Mongolian Groom were gaining ground on him.
As they neared the finish line, both horses came in close together, making it impossible to tell which one crossed the line first. If a horse is not judged the winner of a race, it is declared a dead heat. The stewards then study a photo of the finish and decide whether to declare one horse as the winner. The stewards also make sure that the winning horse is not disqualified for any rule infractions or for being unfit to win.
Horse races in different countries have their own rules, but most are based on the British horseracing authority’s original rulebook. Some have a photo finish to determine the winner, while others have a jury that decides whether a horse has won. In Australia and Europe, the result is determined by a panel of expert judges. Many of these judges are former jockeys who have a vast knowledge of horseracing and are familiar with the nuances of judging.