A horse race is a contest between two or more horses ridden by jockeys over a set distance. Generally speaking, sprints and flat races are seen as tests of speed, while longer, stay-away races are considered tests of stamina.
The earliest racing records date to around 700 B.C., although some archeological evidence shows racing as early as Egypt and Babylon. Horses of Arabian and Turk breeds may have contributed to the earliest European races.
Racing in the United States began when the British colonized New Amsterdam in 1664. The first recorded race purse was 40 pounds for a three-mile race with knights. In 1776, a Derby race was introduced. Later, a two-mile course was laid out on the plains of Long Island. It was called Newmarket after the British racecourse.
Initially, a single race would take place in a local township or on a small private track. However, as the popularity of the sport grew, open events with larger fields of runners emerged. Using this method, bettors shared funds with the management of the track.
Handicap racing is a form of Thoroughbred horse racing that assigns different weights to horses based on their abilities. This is done to give all horses an equal chance to win. While many races are run on the flat, others are run on a variety of courses. Some are run over distances as short as 440 yards, while others are as long as 2 and a half miles.
The most common types of flat races are sprints and individual distances from 440 yards to two and a half miles. The most prestigious races, known as “conditions” races, offer the biggest purses and are typically run over the course of several weeks.
Handicap racing has benefited in recent years from the introduction of sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment and the proliferation of 3D printing technology. For instance, thermal imaging cameras can be used to detect overheating horses after a race, and MRI scanners can be used to identify minor health conditions.
Although racing has changed over the centuries, the overall concept has remained the same. Among other things, the most important change is the addition of a betting pool, or pari-mutuel. Known as the’match-book’ keeper, this third party will record agreements about races. Bets are subject to a ‘play or pay’ rule. If a bet is placed and the owner fails to show up, half the purse is forfeited.
Although there are some exceptions, the classic age for a race is a horse’s fifth year of life. Until the middle of the 20th century, a race with a four-year-old horse carried considerably less weight than one with a five-year-old. Since the 1950s, however, the classic age has been reduced to just three years.
Handicap races are a significant aspect of Thoroughbred horse racing. Traditionally, the best horse in a race is given the coveted title of ‘champion’. After the Civil War,’speed’ became a goal. Consequently, a number of countries have instituted a ‘Triple Crown’ of prestigious elite races.