A horse race is a competition in which horses that are ridden by jockeys or pulled by sulkies compete to reach the finish line first. The winner takes a prize, known as a purse. Each horse must complete a set course (often including obstacles) in the fastest time, with rules specifying how to do so. A number of different bet types can be placed on a race, with the most common being betting to win, placing, and accumulator.
In the United States, horse racing became popular in the early 19th century, as a means to raise money for public schools. By the late 1850s, it was a national phenomenon. In the Civil War, Union officials promoted thoroughbred breeding to meet the needs of the cavalry. By the end of the war, almost all American race horses were crossbreds.
There are many different types of horse races, but the most famous in the United States are called stakes races, which offer the largest prize pools. In these races, the owner of each participating horse puts up a specified sum before the race begins, and the winner takes all the money, known as a purse. Stakes races can also be categorized by the age of the horses or by sex (fillies carry less weight than males). Other factors that influence the outcome of a race include the track conditions, the distance of the race, and whether it is handicapped.
In politics, the term horse race is used to refer to a tight contest between two opponents or to compare an election to a horse race. This comparison suggests that the election will be decided by a small margin and that there is little room for error in the result. It is also a common way to describe a close political debate.
Some journalists use the horse race metaphor in an attempt to attract readers by using sports language to describe political events. Proponents of this approach argue that many voters are bored with the droning and abstract language usually associated with political coverage, so replacing it with familiar sports language could pique their interest. The practice has also been criticised as trivialising politics by reducing it to a thrilling spectacle that is often out of touch with the real world.
Those who oppose horse racing are concerned about the cruelty involved in the industry. Activists such as the organization PETA have investigated horse racing to uncover abusive training practices for young horses, drug abuse, and the fate of millions of slaughtered American thoroughbreds. They have also pushed for improved regulations, but the industry has been slow to change. Despite these problems, horse racing remains a popular activity worldwide. In the US, television networks such as TVG show a large amount of live horse racing each day. These channels are included in many cable television packages. In addition to live races, these channels often feature a full schedule of replays. Several online sports betting sites also offer horse racing wagering.