A horse race is a sporting event in which horses compete for prize money. It takes place at racetracks and is run over a course of about a mile. During a horse race, jockeys steer the horses around hurdles and fences and over the finish line.
Racing is one of the oldest forms of sports in the world, with traces of it dating back to ancient Egyptian times and its modern form starting in the 17th century. It has evolved to include various types of races and wagers.
Bets are placed on individual horses (overlays) or on groups of horses (underlays). These bets are usually taken out at a track in the form of pari-mutuels, where if a horse finishes in the top three, all bettors share the money they have staked minus a percentage from the racetrack management.
Before a race begins, horses are positioned in stalls or behind a gate to ensure that no horse has an unfair advantage when it starts the race. Some race tracks have a “false start” rule, where if a horse starts the race before others, it is considered to be cheating and may not win.
Horses must carry a certain amount of weight during the race, and this is adjusted depending on their age and class. Two-year-olds compete with less weight than horses that are three years old or older, and fillies are given sex allowances that reduce their weight even further.
The age at which a horse is fully developed is also important, and the classic age of five has been adopted in many countries, although some prestigious races still take place with horses as young as two years old. The size of purses, breeding fees and sale prices have made it possible to race horses for longer than ever before, but the sport is now suffering from a decline in popularity.
Races are organized at different levels in most countries, from graded stakes in the United States and Canada to conditions races in England and France. There are also group races, where competitors of the same gender, age and class race against each other.
There are also handicapped races, which adjust the weights that each horse must carry according to its age and record. The weights for a horse are set by the racing secretary, who studies past records to determine how likely each horse is to win.
In the United States, the federal government oversees horse racing through the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. It has rules on the use of whips, and some jockeys can be fined if they use them too much.
Jockeys are not allowed to use a whip on more than six occasions, and must give the horse an opportunity to respond before using it again. The rules are not as strict as those in California or New Jersey, for example, but they do require a horse to be able to hear and respond before it is hit with the whip.