Horse races have been a popular sport in Europe and Asia since ancient times. In the modern world of sports, horse racing is one of the few where humans compete with horses in a formal competition. People bet on the outcome of the race, and the winner is declared by a judging team. The first horse to have its nose cross the finish line is deemed the winner, though there are other factors that can influence the result such as the starting position of the horse, gender, age, jockey, and training. While different countries may have their own rules for horse races, the majority of rulebooks are based on the British Horseracing Authority’s original rules.
When Eight Belles and Medina Spirit died during the exorbitant physical stress of running a race, they called for a reckoning of American horse racing’s ethics and integrity. The industry responded with a blitz of safety improvements and an infusion of funds for new equine care centers. But the money is not enough, and these investments do nothing to change the way racehorses are treated. These animals continue to be pushed beyond their limits and subjected to cocktails of legal and illegal drugs that mask injuries and artificially enhance performance. Many of these horses—fittingly called “bleeders” by the industry—will bleed from their lungs when forced to exert themselves for long periods of time, a condition known as exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH). To prevent this, every horse on the race track is given Lasix, a diuretic marked on the racing form with a boldface L. This drug causes horses to unload epic amounts of urine, twenty or thirty pounds worth.
The use of legal and illegal drugs to mask injury and enhance performance dates back thousands of years. The ancient Greeks, for example, used a mixture of molasses and alcohol to make their horses run faster. More recently, a trainer for a famous winning thoroughbred once boasted publicly about the powerful legal steroids his horse was taking in preparation for a big race. Racing officials had no way of testing these substances and, in many cases, did not even know that the horses were using them.
Horse races are designed to attract gamblers, and as such, have evolved into a highly complex system of rules. Generally, horses are assigned a certain amount of weight to carry to ensure fairness in a race. However, this can be influenced by other factors such as their starting position relative to the inside barrier, gender, age, jockey, and other training. The sport also has a wide variety of different race types, with the most prestigious events being called “conditions races.” These races have the highest purses. Other kinds of races are called handicap races, and have lower purses. In handicap races, horses are awarded additional weight based on their past performances. This allows the more talented horses to win at a higher rate than their less-capable counterparts. This is done in order to attract more wagers and increase the overall payout of a race.