Horse racing is a sport in which racehorses compete for prize money. It has been practiced in civilizations throughout the world since ancient times, and is still a popular leisure activity.
The basic concept of a horse race has remained virtually unchanged over the centuries, with the primary objective being to determine which horse will complete the course first. In the modern era, horse race is a highly competitive and lucrative industry that has become a major public-entertainment attraction.
Traditionally, the most prized horses have been those with fast and long-distance stamina. These animals have been bred to excel in endurance and were the basis of the English system of course racing.
Breeding and selection of the best horses is based on the principle that athletic performance reflects genetic characteristics. Although there is some evidence that a horse’s phenotype can be influenced by environmental and management factors, the majority of the traits attributed to athletic ability are inherited.
In addition, equine welfare and training are also important considerations when breeding and selecting horses for racing. The stresses involved in running on a hard track at high speeds can cause serious damage to the animal’s skeletal system and lead to a number of ailments including joint injuries, bone fractures and stress-induced muscle spasms.
A horse is considered to be eligible to enter a race if it meets certain criteria set by the organizers. These include age, sex, previous race and weight. The eligibility rules vary from track to track and can be as strict as a “certificate of origin” for foreign horses.
Handicap races are organized by a track and are designed to render all horses in the race as nearly equal as possible by establishing what is called racing form. These handicaps may be set centrally, or the individual tracks can create their own handicaps.
The concept of a handicap can be traced back to the British settlers in the New World, when they established race courses on the plains of Long Island. As they gained more wealth and became more interested in competition and gambling, their desire for a fast horse led them to import English-blooded stock from England and to breed local mares to produce fast horses that could also endure the distance.
Some American race courses were opened as early as 1664. They featured a 2-mile (3.2-km) course, the same as in Britain and the Northern colonies. The hallmark of excellence in America was stamina, which remained the benchmark for success until after the Civil War, when speed became the norm.
It was also during the Civil War that a number of stud farms in England and Europe began to import horses from North America. The result was a rapid increase in the number of horse racing tracks in the United States, as well as a proliferation of racecourses in the South.
In the United States, racetracks were often situated in towns and cities, which were more popular with the average citizen than rural areas. During the 1930s, horse racing was among the top spectator sports in the United States. However, interest in the sport waned as television grew and horse racing competed with other sporting events for the attention of sports fans. By the beginning of the 21st century, only 1 to 2 percent of Americans had listed horse racing as their favorite sport.