A horse race is a sporting event in which horses compete against each other for prize money. In the United States and many other countries, horse races are organized and sanctioned by state or national racing organizations. The sport of horse racing has evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses into a modern spectacle with multiple runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and huge sums of prize money. Despite these changes, the basic concept of a horse race remains unchanged. The horse that crosses the finish line first is declared the winner.
Before a horse race begins, horses are positioned in starting stalls or behind a gate. Once all of the horses are ready, the gates open and the race starts. In special or emergency circumstances, a horse may begin with a flag rather than in a starting stall or gate, provided that the starter has decided to start the race this way and the stewards have granted permission.
Riders guide the horses on the course and over any hurdles or fences that are in the way. A rider is called a jockey, and they must be skilled in coaxing the best performance out of their mounts. Disqualification and other sanctions can occur if the stewards determine that a rider has not done so.
Horse races are run on a variety of surfaces, including dirt, turf, and sand. A good surface can make or break a race, and a fast-paced horse is often rewarded with prize money. However, a slow or plodding horse may have trouble keeping up with the pace and is more likely to get pulled up at the end of the race.
Various technological advances have made horse racing safer for both horses and humans. Safety features on the track include thermal imaging cameras that can detect overheating, MRI scanners and x-ray machines to identify possible injuries, and 3D printing that allows for custom casts and splints. However, the sport has also seen its share of tragedies involving horses, including the public euthanasia of 2010 Derby winner Havnameltdown and the death of 2015 Oaks winner Medina Spirit.
Although the sport has its critics, many people believe that horse racing is a worthwhile endeavor because it gives talented horses the chance to win large sums of money. The sport also helps breeders develop new bloodlines and improve the health of the animal population. However, some people still think that racing is exploitive and cruel, especially because hundreds of racehorses die every year on and off the track. A number of these deaths are due to being overworked and overdrugged, while others have been linked to illegal gambling, doping, and breeding practices.