Horse racing is a spectator sport that has its roots in ancient cultures. Archaeological records suggest that the first organized races took place in Ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, Babylon, Syria, and Arabia. The sport combines speed and stamina. In the United States, where commercialism has long dominated the sport, the emphasis is on speed, while in England, the sport is steeplechase racing, which requires jumping over a variety of obstacles. The ancient Greek author Xenophon wrote about this kind of racing as early as the fifth century BC.
In the United States, horses race over a distance of between one and seven miles. The most common distance is three-quarters of a mile. The distance varies internationally, as well. For instance, some races are run over 2 1/2 miles (4 kilometres). In Europe, some races are more like marathons, with a distance of approximately four and a half miles (6 km).
The earliest thoroughbreds were bred in England, but the breed evolved from several different kinds of stock. The modern racehorse is a hybrid between a Thoroughbred and an Arabian. The hybrids were developed to produce a fast, strong, and agile animal with endurance. The breed has also become adept at jumps, which are an important part of the steeplechase, a race in which the horse must leap over a variety of hurdles.
In addition to training, horses must undergo a rigorous examination before they can compete in a race. The medical team at a racetrack uses a variety of tools to assess the health of a horse, including thermal imaging cameras, MRI scanners, and endoscopes. These instruments help to spot minor problems and illnesses. More serious issues, such as a depressed immune system or gastrointestinal problems, may require treatment by veterinarians or equine surgeons.
A horse is a large, powerful beast, and running at top speeds can be very taxing on its body. When it is pushed to its limits, as it must be in a race, the horse’s skeletal system can be damaged. Consequently, some horses are injured or die during the course of a race.
After a spate of deaths in 2019—including 30 at Santa Anita in California—the United States’ racing industry implemented major reforms. Protocol now calls for a necropsy, a review of contributing factors, and vet records when a horse dies on the track.
In addition to its physical demands, horse racing is a demanding emotional test for both the horses and the humans. The awe-inspiring movements of a horse in motion are hypnotic, and the roar of crowds is rousing. Yet, despite the many rewards of horse racing, the sport is a dangerous endeavor. Many of the world’s most famous and beloved horse racing champions have died in the pursuit of victory. These include Seabiscuit, Man o’War, Secretariat, and Kelso. The death of a horse in a race can be extremely upsetting for fans, owners, and trainers. It can also lead to a great deal of criticism and controversy.