A horse race is a contest over a fixed course between one or more horses. The winner takes the total amount of money bet on the race, which is called the “purse.”
Purses are usually much larger for races that are more prestigious, and many famous races, including the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont Stakes, and the Kentucky Derby, form the American Triple Crown series. In addition, there are dozens of other famous horse races throughout the world, from the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France to the Caulfield Cup and Sydney Cup in Australia, the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini in Argentina, the Wellington and Durban July cups in New Zealand, and the Arima Memorial and Emperor’s Cup in Japan.
Thoroughbreds are bred to run fast over short distances. Most races are sprints, in which a horse must accelerate quickly to win over five to twelve furlongs (1.6 to 2.4 km). In long-distance races, on the other hand, stamina is more important than speed.
Horses are prone to injuries during racing. Injuries can be as simple as bruises or sprains, or as complicated as fractures of the legs or spine. Some horses die from catastrophic injuries. One study found that, on average, three thoroughbreds die in North America every day due to injuries sustained during a race.
Many horses are pushed past their limits, and as a result they may bleed from their lungs, a condition known as exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. To prevent this, horses are given cocktails of legal and illegal drugs before a race, including diuretics that make them lose water and salt.
Although horse racing was once one of the top five spectator sports in America, by 2004 it had fallen out of favor with younger Americans. In that year, only 1 to 2 percent of adults listed horse racing as a favorite sport. Some experts blame the decline on the sport’s leaders, who have not embraced television or sought to market horse racing to a more diverse audience. They also cite problems with the aging demographic of its fans, who tend to be retired, blue-collar men. In addition, some horsemen and women do not stand up to corruption in their sport, creating a culture of silence that erodes the integrity of the game. But other observers say that serious reform will only happen if horseracing is treated like any other legitimate business. This includes establishing uniform rules for drug testing and imposing sanctions against those who break the rules. Currently, the sport is ruled by individual state standards that vary widely.