What Is a Horse Race?

horse race

A horse race is an event in which a horseback rider competes on his or her horse, following a prescribed course. The riders must jump hurdles and cross the finish line on their horse. The first, second, and third place finishers earn prize money. This prize money is often split among the first, second, and third place finishers.

Thoroughbred horse racing

The sport of Thoroughbred horse racing dates back to the days of Charles II. Three founding sires of the sport were discovered in England during the reign of Charles II. Captain Robert Byerly captured a black stallion from the Hungarian siege of Buda, while British consul Thomas Darley smuggled an Arabian colt from the Syrian desert. A mysterious third horse was discovered at the stud farm of the Earl of Godolphin near Cambridge. These three horses became known as the Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Barb.

Many Thoroughbred horses are bought and sold several times over their lifetime. In some races, horses may be sold to a new owner immediately after a race. These events are called “claiming races” and give previous owners little control over the horses’ final destinations. In 2011, over 2,000 horses were sold through these events. One such horse, named Who’s Bluffing, was claimed twelve times in his lifetime. Interestingly, three of his claims came from the same owner.

Photo finish

A photo finish is a process that replaces the human eye with an electronic camera to determine the winner of a horse race. While the technology has evolved since the first photo finish was introduced at the Del Mar Turf Club in 1937, the basic principle is still the same. The photographer positions the camera in a booth above the finish line and then focuses the camera’s lens on a 4-inch-thick slice of the course. A strip of mirror is then attached to the winner’s post to reflect the photo finish.

Today, these cameras are an integral part of horse racing. They have even played an important role in some Breeders’ Cup races. For example, during the Distaff race, a photo finish camera captured Beholder’s nose on the line ahead of Songbird. In another example, a photo finish camera captured Probe and Park Avenue Joe in a dead heat. Park Avenue Joe eventually won the race based on his qualifying heat performance.

King’s Plates

The first King’s Plates in horse race history took place in 1651 for six-year-old horses weighing 168 pounds. A century later, the weight limit was increased to 140 pounds and four-year-olds were allowed to race. Today, the race is considered one of the top prized events in English horse racing.

The race is named after Queen Victoria, the mother of King George V. The Queen Mother attended the 120th Queen’s Plate in 1979 to congratulate Steady Growth and trainer Jim Bentley on their success. The Queen was also at Woodbine in 1985 to make her sixth presentation. This time, she was accompanied by Princess Margaret. La Lorgnette won the Queen’s Plate and the Canadian Oaks.


Purses at horse races are divided among the winners and runners-up in the race. Traditionally, the winner gets sixty to seventy percent of the purse, while runners-up receive fifteen to twenty percent. The rest of the purse is split among the remaining horses based on their finishing position. However, in some states, the purse money is distributed differently.

The purse money distribution at horse races isn’t rocket science. Racetracks calculate daily purse distributions by comparing wagers from previous years. Then they make adjustments to the distribution at the end of the meet. However, the process of tallying figures for overpayments and underpayments can take months.


In horse races, jockeys earn money based on the winnings of their horses. A typical horse race pays out prize money to the top four or five finishers, and jockeys are usually paid between twenty-five percent and one-tenth of the prize money. In addition, jockeys earn $40-$100 for every race as “mount fees.” A top jockey can earn up to $23 million. The top 14 jockeys in the world earn more than $1 million each.

A jockey’s job is to ensure that his mounts don’t exceed their designated weight. Each race has its own weight limit for each horse, and jockeys don’t want to add extra weight on their mounts in an effort to win. If they do, they can be replaced.