A horse race is a sporting competition in which horses compete for prize money. The races are usually run over a distance of about five or six furlongs, although some are longer. The first three finishers usually receive a certain amount of the total prize money. This amount is known as the purse. In many countries, there are multiple races, and the purses for each race may vary. The horses are usually owned by owners and trainers, who pay a fee to enter them in the races. Often the horse races are sponsored by commercial firms, and the purse money is therefore increased.
The sport of horse racing is regulated on a national basis, with long-term policy being set by the Jockey Club in England and similar organisations in some other nations. In most races the winner takes all, but the sport has also developed handicaps, whereby a certain number of points are awarded to each runner depending on his or her form and ability. These handicaps are assigned centrally or by individual tracks, with the aim of achieving equality amongst runners and repudiating the notion that the best horse must win.
In order to participate in a horse race, a horse must have a valid pedigree. This means that its sire and dam must both be purebred individuals of the same breed as the horse. Depending upon the type of race, there may be additional requirements that must be met, such as the ability to jump hurdles (if present).
During a race, a jockey will mount the horse in the paddock area, and after receiving instructions from the trainers will parade the horse past stewards and veterinary inspectors. A veterinary official will check the horse for signs of ill-health and for prohibited substances. Saliva and urine samples are also taken from the horses. A horse that does not pass the veterinary examination will be disqualified.
After the horses are checked, they will be led to the starting gate, which is an electrically operated box that allows the stewards to start the race. The horses will then be raced over a circuit of the track, with the stewards and veterinary officials monitoring them throughout the event. If a horse is injured, it will be removed from the race and treated by a veterinary surgeon.
After the race, the winner will be announced and the prize money distributed. The horse races are often broadcast on television, and a growing number of fans attend races to place bets. The bets can be made to win, place or in accumulator bets where multiple selections are placed. There are a wide variety of exotic bets available, and these are the focus of increasing interest in betting on horse races. The most popular bets are on a horse to win the race, or to place second or third. In the event of a dead-heat for one of the placings, the horse is given half of the winning bet amount.