Betting on a Horse Race

horse race

Horse races have been part of the cultural landscape since ancient times, with archeological records of racing in Egypt, Babylon, Greece and Rome. The sport has also figured in mythology and folklore, including the contest between Odin’s steeds, Hrungnir, and the giant Sleipnir in Norse mythology. On a racetrack, humans perched on horses compel the animals—with a whip—to a frenzied pace that is not in their nature. In the wild, horses understand self-preservation; if they are injured, they stop to rest and recover. But the racetrack is an artificial setting where that instinct is stifled by the threat of losing money on bets.

The earliest organized horse races were open to all participants, but by the 19th century the demand for betting on specific horses led to closed events with restricted fields of runners and eligibility rules based on age, sex, birthplace, and prior performance. The sport consolidated into a number of different types of races, and handicapping systems were established to assign numerical values to a horse’s performance in order to objectively compare her against other racehorses.

Betting on a horse race is commonplace in many countries around the world. The bets placed can be made on a single horse to win, multiple horses to place, or an accumulator in which several bets are combined into one wager. Most betting takes place in the ring or on the racetrack before the race begins, but online betting has become increasingly popular.

During a race, the stewards monitor the safety of all horses on the track. The stewards may inspect the condition of a horse’s limbs, head or back, and the bridle to determine if it is fit to continue the race. The stewards also oversee the use of medications.

The horses are given a series of medications to make them more docile and easier to control on the racetrack, as well as to increase their speed and endurance. These include sedatives to control the animal’s anxiety and muscle relaxants to prevent cramping and fatigue. Many of these drugs are available over-the-counter, but some require a prescription. The most common sedative is Valium, which has a long history of abuse by horse trainers.

Injuries and breakdowns are common in racing, and hundreds of horses die each year on and off the racetrack. Some of these deaths are due to natural causes, but a significant percentage are the result of overwork and drug use. The recent public euthanasia of racehorse Nehro and the charges brought against trainer Steve Asmussen for his abusive training methods, especially electric shocks to produce quick bursts of speed, have cast a dark shadow over this multibillion-dollar industry. Increasing awareness has brought some improvements, but the cruelty inherent in racing remains unabated.