Horse races are a form of gambling where people place bets on whether or not a specific horse will win a particular race. The practice is a popular pastime in many countries and has been a major part of culture throughout history. However, the sport has been criticized for numerous issues including cruelty to horses, drug use, and illegal betting. Several animal rights groups have worked to bring about change in the industry.
Modern horse racing originated in Britain, and British figures shaped the sport in various ways. Admiral Rous established the handicapping process and a weight-for-age scale, Phil Bull founded Timeform, and other form experts set up rating systems that are still used today.
Most races around the world are restricted to certain breeds of horse, and most have separate stud books that accept and disqualify horses based on their pedigrees. These rules are intended to limit the amount of money that can be made on a single horse and prevent breeders from breeding too many copies of a particular horse.
A horse must meet certain criteria to be allowed to participate in a race, and the race stewards decide if a horse is eligible. Eligible horses are typically aged and sexed, have to be of a certain age at the time of the race, must have won a certain number of races to qualify, and must be ridden by a qualified rider. The horse that crosses the finish line first is considered the winner of a race. Runners who finish in second or third place are awarded a portion of the total prize money, which is known as the purse.
When a race is very close, a photo finish may be necessary to determine the winner. In a photo finish, a photograph of the finish is studied by a panel of stewards to see which horse crossed the line first. If the stewards cannot decide which horse won, the race is declared a dead heat.
Flat races are usually contested over distances ranging from five to twelve furlongs (1.0 to 2.4 km). Shorter races are known as sprints and longer races are called routes in the United States and stayers in Europe. Sprints require speed and acceleration, while long-distance races test stamina.
During a race, a jockey must ride the horse in a safe manner and ensure it follows the course, jumps all obstacles (if present), and crosses the finish line first. If a jockey rides the horse to a place or better, they will receive a payout depending on how far they finished and their position.
Injuries and breakdowns are common in horse racing. They can be caused by bad track conditions, tight turns, and other factors. Often horses are forced to run too fast, which can cause them to become tired out quickly. Some injuries are minor and go unnoticed, but others can be devastating. For example, a horse can suffer from an exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, which causes it to bleed from its lungs. This can be very dangerous for the horse and requires immediate veterinary attention.