What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest of speed and skill among horses ridden by jockeys or pulled by sulkies. The goal is to win money or prizes for placing bets on the winners of a given race.

The race procedure begins when the horses are paraded into the paddock, where a steward inspects them. Then they are led to the starting gate, which is electrically operated at most tracks. As the race begins, the stewards and patrol judges, sometimes assisted by motion-picture cameras, watch for any rule violations. Then, after the race is over, a steward determines the official finish and announces the results. The stewards also examine the horses for signs of any illegal drugs or excessive permitted medication.

There are essentially three types of people in racing: the crooks who dangerously drug or otherwise abuse their horses; the dupes who labor under the fantasy that the sport is broadly fair and honest; and the masses in the middle, who know the industry is more crooked than it ought to be but don’t do enough to fix it. The first two types are the biggest problem for the business. They’re the ones who cause the most damage to the integrity of racing and the reputations of its workers. The third type of people, meanwhile, keep coming to the races and betting their hard-earned money, but they’re not a lot of fun for the horses.

In many ways, they’re like prey animals who instinctively prefer to avoid being in the middle of a pack of predators, even one that promises them food for a day or a week, a month, or a lifetime. The horses, on the other hand, attract bettors with their beauty and power. Seabiscuit, for example, was a crowd favorite. Many bettors rooted for him by name, though most supported the more conventionally named runners.

If racing wants to regain the public’s trust, it will have to start treating the horses as more than mere commodities to be exploited for the profit of its affluent patrons. That will take a major overhaul of the sport’s business model and its approach to equine welfare. It will also require that it embrace a modern culture and a legal system that increasingly recognizes that animals are not property and deserve more than the survival of for-profit businesses.

Until then, the fates of Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keepthename, Creative Plan and thousands of other ex-racehorses will continue to be decided by a handful of independent nonprofit rescues that network, fundraise and work tirelessly to save them from their gruesome ends. Those who don’t get bailed out are likely to hemorrhage into the slaughter pipeline, where they will be fed to dog food manufacturers or shipped off to Mexico and Canada for a final day of misery that will include being shot in the head with a gun. Then, like their forebears before them, they will be forgotten forever.