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What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a competition in which horses are driven at high speeds through an area of open country by riders. It is one of the world’s oldest sports and has developed from a primitive contest of speed to a sophisticated spectacle with dozens of runners, complex electronic monitoring equipment, and enormous sums of money. But despite all the changes, its basic concept remains unchanged: the horse that crosses the finish line first wins.

The oldest surviving record of organized horse racing dates to the Olympic Games of ancient Greece around 700-40 bce. During this time, both four-hitch chariot races and mounted (bareback) raced were popular forms of public entertainment.

By the 18th century, thoroughbred racing had developed into a professional sport with rules that regulated horse breeding and training, requiring horses to be certified by breeders and limiting the number of horses allowed in a race based on age, sex, and birthplace. In addition to these rules, horse races were structured into different types with differing requirements for horses and their riders. For example, flat races are started from starting stalls while steeple chases and hurdle races must be started by flagging (requires special permission).

To prepare their horses for the demands of racing, trainers create “condition books.” These provide a framework for the training regimens that will be used to get a horse ready to compete. The conditions of a race are set out for a specified period of weeks or months, and each race is given an official designation in the condition book. If enough entries are received for a race, the race is scheduled to occur on a particular date and will be listed as part of that day’s card. If not enough entries are received, the race may be replaced with a substitute race and the condition book is adjusted accordingly.

A horse’s lower legs, especially on oval tracks like Santa Anita’s, take a terrible beating during a race, straining ligaments and tendons. They also give way when a horse is tired, which is why most of them need “encouragement”–whipping–to continue running hard.

As he stood in front of his stable at Santa Anita, trainer Nick Alexander took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. He had already lost one horse that day, a three-year-old named Satchel Paige.

A horse’s lower legs take a terrible beating during a race, stretching and straining ligaments and tendons and sometimes giving way when the horse is tired. To prevent the pain and discomfort of these injuries, many racehorses are equipped with tongue ties and spurs. The RSPCA says these devices restrict a horse’s movement, causing injury and discomfort. They can also cause permanent damage if they are not removed immediately after the race.