Horse race is an ancient sport in which horses are pulled by jockeys along a prescribed course, jumping hurdles (if present) as they do so. The first two finishers receive a certain amount of prize money, and bettors can place wagers on the outcome of a race by placing bets to win or show. The game has been practiced by civilizations around the world since the early era of history and is featured prominently in myth and legend, as in the contest between Odin’s steeds Hrungnir and Fenris Wolf.
While a horse race is generally seen as a test of speed, many races also feature tests of stamina. Often, horses must cover distances that are far greater than their natural running capability, such as a two-mile marathon or a 3,200-meter race over grass at Flemington in Melbourne, Australia. The sport has evolved from a primitive diversion for the leisure class into a hugely popular entertainment business, with enormous fields of runners and sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, but its essential concept remains unchanged: The winner is the horse that crosses the finish line first.
To qualify as a great race, a horse must compete in one of the most prestigious racing venues and must face another truly outstanding competitor. The greatest races can lift a horse to immortality, such as Secretariat’s stunning 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes or Arkle’s 1964 demolition of the Gold Cup field.
In the earliest horse races, match races were run between two or at most three horses with owners providing the purses. Initially, the owner who withdrew forfeited half or even all of the purse. As the sport grew, agreements about the matches were recorded by disinterested third parties, who came to be known as keepers of the match books. The agreements were eventually published in book form, and this publication became known as the Racing Calendar.
The Derby, the Premio d’Italia, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe are among the most famous flat races in the world, and they each feature races that test both speed and stamina. Other famous races include the Australian Melbourne Cup, Japan Cup, and Epsom Derby. Horses must be at least four years old to compete in these races.
In a horse race, the horses are lined up in stalls or behind gates and are then released to begin the race. When the gates open, the jockeys jump on their horses and guide them around the course, navigating any barriers (if there are any) and jumping them as required. The horse must follow the prescribed course and not leave the marked boundary lines, or risk being disqualified. During the race, the jockeys will adjust their weight and position on the horse to ensure they maintain an optimal level of energy for each phase of the race. If the jockey loses control of his horse, he will fall off. The horse must then be ridden off the track by someone else.