A horse race is a sport in which horse riders attempt to win by riding their horses over a course that may include obstacles. The entrants are usually divided into a number of groups, which are called races, and the winners are awarded a certain amount of prize money depending on how far they come in the race. This sport has a long and distinguished history and is practiced in various cultures throughout the world. In addition to being a popular spectator sport, horse racing is often incorporated into legend and mythology, such as in the contest between Odin’s steeds Hrungnir and Sleipner in Norse mythology.
The first horse races were merely games of chance involving bets on the outcome, but as the sport developed, rules were imposed to limit its potential for fraud and corruption. These rules included standardized race formats and the use of trainers to oversee the training of horses and jockeys. By the mid-18th century, demand for public racing had grown to the point that it was possible to create events wherein a particular township or county would be represented and in which certain qualifications for horses and riders were required.
Today, horse races are run all over the world and in a wide variety of conditions. The prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, the Melbourne Cup in Australia, and the Caulfield and Sydney Cups in England are among the most famous. In addition to these renowned flat races, there are steeplechases and hurdles in which horses must jump over obstacles. There are also a number of sulky races in which the horses must be guided by hand and are not allowed to run with their natural running gait.
While there is no definitive knowledge of the exact onset of horse racing, it appears that organized competition began in ancient Greece when both four-hitch chariot and mounted (bareback) racing was held during the Olympiads. The sport later spread to other ancient civilizations, including Egypt, Babylon, and Syria.
In the United States, betting on the outcome of horse races has been legal since 1892, and a large part of the betting public is drawn to the sport by the promise of a good time and a payday. Whether they are hardcore daily bettors or occasional visitors, many of these fans will cheer a specific horse, such as Seabiscuit, to which they can relate.
Due to the fact that horse racing is a very dangerous sport and that the animals are constantly subjected to high levels of stress, they are routinely given cocktails of both legal and illegal drugs to help mask injuries and artificially enhance performance. This has resulted in numerous cases of horses sustaining life-threatening injuries and developing chronic ailments such as exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, a condition wherein the horse bleeds from the lungs during a vigorous workout. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that owners can callously sell their horses to new owners in a series of claiming races and have little control over where they end up.