Horse racing is a spectator sport where humans place bets on horses to win races. It is practiced in many countries and has a long history of use, including in Ancient Greece, Rome, Babylon, Syria, Egypt, and Arabia. It is also featured in mythology, as in the contest between Odin’s steed Hrungnir and the giant Helga in Norse legends.
While the sport is sometimes criticized as being inhumane, some people feel that it is important to the welfare of the horses who participate and that it is a vital industry. Others worry that the sport has become corrupted by drug use, overbreeding, and other practices. The practice is legal in most jurisdictions.
A horse race is a competition between two or more Thoroughbred horses (or other equines, such as donkeys) running over a set distance on a track. The winner is the first to cross a finish line in the allotted time. The fastest horses compete in speed races, while slower ones contest handicap races, which are typically run over longer distances.
The oldest and most prestigious horse races are known as Classics, which include the Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes, and Kentucky Derby, which make up the American Triple Crown series. In these races, the best horses have the chance to earn a large purse and recognition as a champion. In addition, a winning horse may receive a bonus payment based on its finish position in the race.
More and more, though, horse racing has been skewed by the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories intended for human use are abused in order to encourage horses to run faster. Other medications, such as growth hormones and blood doping, are also used to give horses an advantage. Racing officials are unable to keep up with the avalanche of new drugs, and penalties for violating rules are rarely enforced.
For all its glamour and money, horse racing is an unpleasant business for the animals involved. As the horses sprint in a frenzied effort to win, they often sustain injuries or suffer gruesome breakdowns. Some are slaughtered. And behind the romanticized facade of the sport, there is a world of egregious cruelty, including overbreeding, shady breeding practices, drug abuse, and even death.
In an attempt to reduce the number of deaths in 2022, Congress enacted laws that would apply the same safety standards to all racetracks. The resulting Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority began monitoring races in July of that year, and fatalities have since declined. But the industry remains loth to change. Trainers still rely on whips, tongue-ties, and other devices, such as the illegal electric-shock device called a jigger, to coax a few extra yards from their mounts. In addition, drug testing for prohibited substances is spotty at best. The industry is rife with corruption.