A horse race is a competition between two or more horses over a set distance. These events are usually run on a flat track and involve sprinting at high speeds. The most prestigious races in the world are run over a distance of between five and seven furlongs (sixty yards). These include the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Melbourne Cup, Japan Cup, Durban July and Wellington Cup in Australia, Gran Premio Internacional Carlos Pellegrini in Argentina, Caulfield Cup in New Zealand, and the Derby, Epsom and Dubai World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. These distances are considered tests of speed and stamina.
The sport is governed and sanctioned by state governments, almost always through legalized pari-mutuel gambling. In the United States, betting on horse racing is done through racetracks and bookmakers. The most popular type of bet is the win bet, which pays if the horse comes in first place. The other two most common types of bet are the place and show bets. The place bet pays if the horse finishes either first or second, and the show bet pays if the horse comes in either first, second or third.
In spite of the popularity of the sport, horse racing is experiencing a decline in spectator attendance and is facing increasing financial challenges. Among the reasons is its inability to attract a younger audience. As a result, the sport faces stiff competition from major professional and collegiate team sports for potential patrons. New would-be fans are also turned off by the horse racing industry’s long-running lack of transparency and willingness to enforce its own rules regarding safety, drugs and animal welfare.
While the racing industry has worked hard to improve animal welfare standards, it remains an industry that focuses on profiting from animals rather than ensuring their well-being. As a result, many horses are subjected to brutal training methods and are forced to compete at such fast speeds that they frequently suffer from injuries, breakdowns and even death. Many of these injured and dead horses end up in foreign slaughterhouses.
Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred horse racing lies a dark reality of drug use, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. PETA has launched groundbreaking investigations into the abusive training practices for young horses, drug use on the backstretch, and the transport of American horses to foreign slaughterhouses.
The earliest horse races in history were probably informal, with no winner and only a monetary prize for the owner or trainer of the winning horse. The modern sport of horse racing was founded in the 18th century, with a number of races being held in the following decades.
In the United States, horse racing was a hugely popular sport through much of the 20th century, but by the 2000s it had fallen out of the top five spectator sports. The industry lost a great deal of its audience to the major professional and collegiate team sports and, according to IBISWorld, only 1 to 2 percent of Americans listed horse racing as their favorite sport in 2004.