Our News

The Evolution of Horse Racing

Horse racing is one of the world’s oldest sports and a popular form of entertainment. It has evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses into a spectacle involving large fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment and immense sums of money. But the sport’s basic concept remains unchanged: whichever horse finishes first wins.

In horse racing, the horses carry weights that are designed to equalize their chances of winning a race by studying their past performances and handicapping them accordingly. The weights that a horse must carry in a race are adjusted according to its age; for example, two-year-old horses compete with lighter weights than older competitors. Weight penalties or allowances are also based on sex, as fillies carry less weight than males.

Despite the enormous amounts of money that are wagered, only a small percentage of races end in a winner. The vast majority of races have no definite outcome; the horse that is first across the finish line is declared the winner, but it may not have won by the largest margin.

Horse racing has a rich history in cultures around the globe, including Ancient Greece, Rome, Babylon and Syria, as well as a major role in mythology and legend, such as Odin’s steed Hrungnir. It has long been considered a sport for the wealthy, but it has been gradually becoming more accessible to the general public in recent decades.

At the turn of the 20th century, there were more than 1,600 races in America, most of which were confined to local towns or counties. As demand grew for public racing, rules were developed that permitted horses to be entered into races based on their ages, sexes, birthplaces and prior performance. As dash racing (one heat) became the norm, a few yards of advantage gained by a horse and rider over a competitor became the focus of intense competition.

As the sport’s popularity grew, it became common for owners and trainers to use medications to give their horses an edge. Powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories that were originally developed for humans bled over into race preparation. Other drugs, including antipsychotics, sedatives to calm horses and prevent tremors, growth hormones, blood doping and other substances not approved by racing officials were also used. The testing capacity of racing officials was inadequate and penalties were rarely imposed.

The sport is often criticized for its treatment of the animals that are used for it. Animal rights activists like Patrick Battuello, who runs the activist group Horseracing Wrongs, say that racehorses are drugged, whipped, trained and raced too young, and pushed to their limits and beyond. Those that do not die in the course of their careers are confined to solitary confinement for much of their lives. By some estimates, ten thousand American thoroughbreds are slaughtered each year.