Horse races are a popular sport that pits the athletic ability of trained racehorses against each other over measured distances. Each horse is paired with a jockey, who mounts the animal and guides it over jumps and obstacles on a dirt track or on turf courses. Whether a race is flat or steeplechase, there are several different types of rules that govern how the race is run. There are also a wide variety of betting options.
Some people criticize the sport, claiming that it is inhumane or corrupt due to doping and overbreeding. Others feel that racing represents the pinnacle of achievement for these athletes and that it is a worthy endeavor. The sport has long attracted a diverse group of supporters, including hardcore daily bettors and casual spectators. Many fans even have a favorite horse that they cheer by name, such as Seabiscuit.
The earliest horse races were match races, wherein two or three horses competed and an owner provided the purse. These wagers were recorded by disinterested third parties, who came to be known as keepers of the match book. By the early 1600s, racehorses were being bred and raised for both performance and beauty. The French introduced a system of rules for horse racing in the early 17th century, which included requiring certificates of origin for races and imposing extra weight on foreigners.
During the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715), the sport became an official event on the national calendar and a major source of revenue for the country. The racehorses of the day were bred for both speed and endurance, with the emphasis placed on a quick start and the ability to finish the race.
In America, the most important types of races are flat thoroughbred horse races and steeplechases. Both are run over a mile (about a quarter of a kilometer). To qualify to compete in a race, a horse must have a sire and dam who are both purebred members of the breed being raced.
In flat races, a horse must pass a number of markers called “points of call.” These are located at various locations around the track that designate the distance from the finish line. Those nearer the finish line are considered more important, and points are awarded to the first three or four horses to cross the line. In addition, there are handicap races in which the weights that a racehorse must carry are adjusted for its age and sex. The oldest horses are given the most weight, while fillies and males have lighter weights than full-grown men.