Horse racing is an equestrian sporting activity which has been
practiced over the centuries; the chariot races of Roman times
were an early example, as was the contest of the steeds of the
god Odin and the giant Hrungnir in Norse mythology.
The principal form of horse racing, which is popular in many parts
of the world, is
horse racing. Harness racing, is somewhat
popular in the United States and to a lesser extent elsewhere.
Quarter horse racing
is also popular in the United States.
The breeding, training and racing of horses in many countries is
now a significant economic activity as, to a greater extent, is
the gambling industry which is largely supported by it.
Exceptional race horses can win millions of dollars and make millions
more by providing stud services, such as horse breeding.
Types of Horse Racing
The style of horse racing, the distances and the type of events varies
very much by the country in which the race is occurring, and many
countries offer different types of horse races.
In the United Kingdom for example, there are horse races which involve
obstacles (either hurdles or fences) called National Hunt racing
and those which are unobstructed races over a given distance
(flat racing). The UK has provided many of the sport's greatest
ever jockeys, most notably Gordon Richards.
In the United States, horse races can occur on flat surfaces of either
dirt or grass, generally thoroughbred racing; other tracks offer
quarterhorse racing and
harness racing, or combinations of these
three types of racing. Racing with other breeds, such as Arabian
horse racing, is found on a limited basis. American thoroughbred
horse races are run at a wide variety of distances, most commonly from
5 furlongs (1006 m) to 1½ miles (2414 m); with this in mind,
breeders of thoroughbred race horses are able to breed horses to
excel at a particular distance.
Horse Racing in the United States
The high point of US horse racing has traditionally been the
Kentucky Derby which,
together with the Preakness
Stakes and the
Belmont Stakes, form the
Triple Crown for
However, in recent years the
Breeders' Cup races,
held at the end
of the year, have been challenging the Triple Crown events, held
early in the year, as determiners of the three-year-old champion.
They also have an important effect on the selection of other
The corresponding standardbred
event is the Breeders' Crown.
There are also a Triple Crown of
Harness Racing for
Pacers and a
Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Trotters.
American betting on horse racing is sanctioned and regulated by
state governments, almost always through legalized parimutuel
horse racing in the United States has its own Hall
of Fame for horses, jockeys, and trainers.
Tracks in the United States
While the attention of horseracing fans and the media is focused
almost exclusively on the horse's performance on the racetrack or
for male horses or possibly its success as a sire, but little
publicity is given the brood mares. Such is the case of La
Troienne, one of the most important mares of the 20th century to
whom many of the greatest thoroughbred champions, and dams of
champions can be traced.
In Australia the most famous horse is Phar Lap. However, this
horse is from New Zealand, as was Cardigan Bay, a pacing horse
who enjoyed great success at the highest levels of American
harness racing in the 1960s. Racing in Australia has enjoyed
great success with races such as the Melbourne Cup, which has
recently been attracting many international entries.
The most famous horses from Canada are Northern Dancer, who after
winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness went on to become the
most successful Thoroughbred sire ever, and his son Nijinsky II.
In Canada, however, harness racing is more popular than
Thoroughbred racing. Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, home of the
Queen's Plate, Canada's premier thoroughbred stakes race, and the
North America Cup, Canada's premier standardbred stakes race, is
the only race track in North America which stages Thoroughbred
and Standardbred (harness) meetings on the same day. The North
America Cup has the largest purse of any Canadian horse race.
In Ireland, noted for its great racing history, the Derby winning
Thoroughbred race horse Shergar was kidnapped on February 8,
1983. He has never been found.
Horse Racing Controversy
Many people consider horse racing to be a cruel sport. They
consider broodmares and stallions to be overworked. Supreme
Leader and Pistolet Bleu covered over 600 mares between them in
2001. Both died from what commentators felt was exhaustion. Drugs
and artificial lighting are typically used so female horses give
birth to one horse every year, the natural cycle for a horse
being one foal every two years. This breeding cycle hasn't
objectively been shown as harmful, but some people might conclude
that being pregnant 92% of the time is not good for a horse's
During races some jockeys use a crop to hit the horse in the rump
to direct their effort and possibly run faster. Based on the most
detailed statistical study of whipping ever carried out, critics
state that it is actually counterproductive and slows the horse
down; becoming distracted and dangerously veer off course. In a
sport that is not only highly competitive but relies on
high-stakes gambling to sustain itself, some people feel it is
unlikely that a practice shown to be a disadvantage would
continue. In Norway use of the whip is banned, except for in
emergencies. It is also heavily restricted in India, where
jockeys are not allowed to use a whip until they have proven they
are capable of winning without it. The British Jockey Club
responds to criticism of the whip by acknowledging that 'the
Jockey Club has long advised riders that more races are lost
rather than won through use of the whip'.
Some 375 in-racing horses die every year in the UK alone. They
may die on the course itself, from injuries received in training
or be killed by their owners - considered no longer commercially
viable. The UK industry breeds three times more horses than enter
racing. Many of these horses are used in breeding, sold to
hunters who ride horseback, for point-to-pointing (another horse
sport), and general recreational riding. Animal Aid, a UK animal
rights organization, contends that some of these 'lost' horses
are killed to be fed to hunting hounds, used for pet food, or
exported for human consumption.