Horse racing is a sport that evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses into a spectacle with huge fields, complex electronic monitoring equipment, and enormous sums of money. But its basic concept has remained unchanged for centuries: the horse that crosses the finish line first wins. It is one of the oldest and most popular spectator sports, but it has lost ground to other forms of entertainment since World War II. Interest in the sport has waned to the point that in a poll conducted by a major newspaper last year, only 1 to 2 percent of Americans named it their favorite sport.
A racetrack is a complex structure that includes the actual track and grandstand, a stable area, jockeys’ quarters and tack rooms, and an area for grooming. A typical race features a number of horses running around the track in a set order, with a jockey riding each horse to guide them. During the race, bettors place wagers on which horse will win by placing chips or tickets in the betting window. Winning bettors receive their winnings, after a deduction of a percentage by the track.
The main types of horse races are handicaps, turf courses, and dirt courses. In a handicap race, the racing secretary assigns weights designed to equalize the chances of each horse. The weights are based on a horse’s age and past performance. The smallest horses, such as two-year-olds, are given lighter weights than older horses. The gender of the horse also is taken into consideration; fillies carry lower weights than males.
During a turf course race, the horses run on grass that has been irrigated to keep it firm. A track official must maintain the surface, which can be difficult in extreme weather conditions. Grass racing is more labor intensive than dirt racing, and is usually reserved for horses that require more exercise.
On a dirt course, the horses are racing on a hard surface that may be muddy or sandy. A track official must maintain the surface, and a good course is essential for a good race.
A horse’s feet take a beating during a race, and they are often sore afterward. To reduce this soreness, horses are injected with Lasix, a diuretic that is noted on the racing form by a boldface “L.” Its primary function is to prevent pulmonary bleeding, which happens when horses exert themselves and cause their blood vessels to expand too quickly. It also makes the horse unload epic amounts of urine-twenty or thirty pounds worth. Animal rights activists, including Patrick Battuello of the Horseracing Wrongs group, argue that Lasix is an illegal steroid. It allows horses to be pushed to the limit of their endurance and, according to PETA, kills ten thousand American thoroughbreds annually.