A horse race is a competition in which a group of horses compete against each other over a set distance. The racers are given weight penalties or allowances based on their age, sex, birthplace and previous performance in races. These adjustments are designed to make the winning chances of each entrant more or less equal. Historically, races were run in a series of heats, with one horse winning two or more to be declared the winner. Today, most thoroughbred races are run as single-race events.
As with most sports, the horse racing industry is divided over whether it is a legitimate pastime or a corrupt, money-driven enterprise. Some believe that horse racing is inhumane and should be abolished, while others feel that the sport has been tarnished by cheating and doping, but that it can be revived with honesty, integrity and responsible management.
The death of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit in the midst of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes last year sparked a rethinking of how the sport treats its horses. Their gruesome ends are emblematic of a system that regularly sees horses die during the exorbitant physical stress of racing and training. The horse industry is trying to change that by implementing new standards and a national oversight body, but the damage has already been done.
Mathematicians at EHESS in France have developed a computer model that could help improve the lives of horses in and out of the racetrack. The model, which was published in PLOS ONE, takes advantage of the GPS trackers embedded in many racing saddles to provide real-time speed and position data on each horse. It can be used to predict how a horse will perform in different circumstances and to suggest racing strategies that optimize the use of a horse’s unique aerobic energy capabilities.
For example, jockeys often hold their horses back in the early stages of a race, hoping to preserve their energy for a late burst, but the team’s model found that doing so can leave a horse exhausted at the end. The model also suggests that horses with a good record of performance at long distances will probably be suited to longer races.
Mary Carlton is a writer and researcher at Sports&Hobbies. She has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and is passionate about preserving the integrity of the sports she covers. She is particularly interested in the intersection of sport, gender and race. She has been a contributor to Sports&Hobbies since 2010. She spends her free time exploring the great outdoors and reading. She also enjoys cooking and traveling to far-flung locales. She hopes to one day write a novel. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.