Horse races are contests between two or more horses, run over a set distance and usually based on wagering. The most common race types are sprints, middle-distance and long-distance. The fastest horses are considered speed horses, while the best endurance runners are known as stayers. There are a number of different racing types, but the most common is a thoroughbred horse race. The sport is popular around the world and there are several major racetracks in the United States.
The earliest horse races were match races between two or at most three horses. The owners provided the purse, and bettors made a wager on who would win the match. The agreements were recorded by disinterested third parties, who came to be known as keepers of the match book. One such keeper at Newmarket in England, John Cheny, began publishing An Historical List of All Horse-Matches Run (1729).
Individual flat races are generally run over distances from 440 yards (400 m) to two miles (3.2 km), although races longer than this are rare. Short races are commonly referred to as sprints, while the most prestigious events, such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Melbourne Cup and Dubai World Cup, are run over distances in the middle of this range and seen as tests of both speed and stamina.
Long-distance horse races are usually referred to as “routes” in the United States and as staying races in Europe. These races are a test of a horse’s ability to cover great distances at a steady pace over extended periods of time. The most renowned long-distance race is the Mongol Derby, which is a 621-mile marathon across the Mongolian steppe that follows Genghis Khan’s horseback messenger system.
In the early days of organized racing, there was no centralized authority regulating the sport. Most races were held on private land leased by racetracks, and the terms of each lease varied from track to track. These conditions led to the development of a variety of racing rules, including a system of weighting. Weighting is a system of evaluating a horse’s ability to perform in a race, based on past performances and determining the odds a horse will be assigned for a specific event.
The most significant problem facing horse racing today is the lack of a comprehensive industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution for retired racehorses. In this and many other ways, the sport is failing horses at a macro business level. Serious reform is needed to ensure that the welfare of the horse is prioritized at all levels, from breeding and training to racing and aftercare. There is hope, however. The first step is to make the industry decide if the horse matters enough to take some difficult, expensive and untraditional steps that will put its integrity and ethical standards on solid ground. This will require a profound ideological reckoning at the macro business and industry level, and within the minds of the horsemen and women who make it their living.