The Horse Race – A Spectacular Spectacular

The horse race is one of the world’s oldest sports. It has evolved from a primitive contest of speed and stamina between two horses into a spectacular spectacle that involves large fields, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and huge sums of money. But the basic concept remains unchanged: the horse that finishes first wins.

The earliest known written manual on the care, feeding and training of horses dates from around 1500 bc in Asia Minor. The Iliad contains a description of chariot races from around the 8th or 9th century bc, and both chariot and bareback (unmounted) horse races were part of the Olympic Games starting in 740 bc.

Horse racing began as match contests between two or three horses. Pressure by the public eventually produced events with larger fields. In the early days, a rider’s skill and judgment were critical to winning. But as dash racing became the rule, speed became paramount and a rider’s ability to gain a few feet made all the difference.

As the field spread out into the backstretch, a few thousand humans gathered behind the grandstand to watch. Some of them sipped beer and ate chili. Then came the stretch run. The horses moved with hypnotic smoothness into the last of the pinkish light, and the crowd switched from cheering to shrieking.

In the final furlong, War of Will was still leading. But McKinzie and Mongolian Groom were closing fast. Then a big chestnut colt named Vino Rosso swept past War of Will and took the lead in the home stretch. The crowd roared.

Despite all the specialized equipment and sophisticated tracking systems, the sport is still a game of chance. Even a small mistake can have disastrous consequences. The equine equivalent of the political quick poll – a handful of questions designed to give a snapshot of voters’ views – has proliferated. They have fed partisanship and fueled interest in the horse race, especially in key swing states. But they have also been inaccurate and misleading and should be disregarded.

Injuries are common. Some are serious, including those to the tendons and bones of the feet and legs. Others are less severe, such as a pulled suspensory ligament. Occasionally a horse will break down, buckling under the strain in full view of an audience that had just been cheering for him or her. But the vast majority of Thoroughbreds finish their careers healthy and happy, earning millions of dollars for their owners. The monetary prize for the winner is called the purse. It may be paid in cash or in a variety of other forms, such as shares of the winning horse’s earnings. Some states pay the entire prize from their state taxes, while others split it among the top four or five finishing horses, depending on a formula. The remaining funds are distributed to the owner of each horse based on how far they placed and their ownership share of the total pool.