Horse races are events in which a human (rider) and an animal, typically a horse, compete against each other in a contest to win a wager. The race can take place on flat or jump tracks, and may be started with a starting gate, stalls, or in exceptional circumstances by flag (requires special permission). It is illegal to bet on the outcome of the event, but it is common for fans to watch from the stands, wager on the result, and cheer at the finish line. A number of national and international horse racing organizations have rules on how a race should be run.
Some people criticize the practice of racing horses, arguing that it is inhumane and that the sport has become corrupted by doping and overbreeding. Others feel that the “Sport of Kings,” as horse racing is sometimes called, represents the pinnacle of achievement for the competitors and that, while it needs reforms, it is still fundamentally sound.
Many races are contested by jockeys on top of a horse, but there are also hurdle races and steeplechases, in which the horses compete over obstacles over an extended distance. A horse can be trained to compete in these events by starting in flat races as a juvenile, moving on to hurdling after a year or two, and then, if thought capable, to steeplechasing.
The race is not always won by the fastest horse, which is why some races are handicapped. These races are regulated either centrally in countries where racing is heavily controlled or by individual tracks and aim to make all the horses as equally matched as possible by assigning a handicap weight. The result is that a slower horse can win if it is well ridden.
Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred horse racing is a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter. As awareness of these problems grows, the industry is losing fans, revenue, and race days. The good news is that there are efforts underway to improve conditions for horses.