Horse racing is a popular sport that attracts bettors who are drawn by the power and beauty of the animals as well as the potential for pay day. But behind the romanticized facade of this form of entertainment lies a world of injuries, drugs abuse and, on occasion, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. The people who run this industry are often exposed to cruelty, as illustrated by the undercover videos filmed in 2013 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that revealed the harrowing fate of a young racehorse named Nehro. In the video, trainers, grooms and handlers demonstrate a contemptuous disregard for the suffering of this poor animal. They use electric shocks and other tactics to force the horse to sprint for miles at a time, which frequently causes injuries such as hemorrhaging in the lungs.
The first horse races were held some 2,000 years ago in Greece, where horses were used to pull carts and carriages. In time, warriors began pitting their warhorses against each other in order to prove their steeds’ superiority. The sport evolved into a formal competition around 1000 B.C.E. The ancient Greeks also developed the rules for handicap races, in which horses competed under different weights, based on age and other factors. Then, in the 17th century, British influence on the sport led to the development of a system for rating and ranking horses, which is still used today.
Modern-day horse races have a variety of rules, but four primary types of events stand out. One is the sprint race, which covers distances of between five and twelve furlongs (1.0 and 2.4 km). This type of race is considered to be a test of acceleration and speed, and requires a quick turn of foot. Another is the route race, which covers a mile or more and usually has two turns. Route races are a good test of stamina, and the skill of a jockey in coaxing maximum speed from his mount is key to winning them.
Finally, there are the stakes races, where winners earn a set amount of money, known as a purse. The purse is determined by the number of entries in a particular race, with higher-ranked horses receiving a larger share of the prize money. Stakes races are typically held on a large, oval track, while turf races are run on softer surfaces such as dirt or grass.
While modern-day horse racing has many rules, the sport has always operated with a patchwork of regulations across the dozens of states where it is conducted. Each jurisdiction can have different standards, including on the use of whips and the kinds of medications that can be given to horses. The penalties for violating these rules vary by jurisdiction as well. This is unlike other major sports, such as the NBA, which has a single set of national rules that apply to all teams and players. As a result, horse racing is subject to more controversy and scrutiny than other sports.