The History of the Horse Race

Horses have been bred and raced throughout history. The practice started in ancient Greek chariot racing and was later perfected at Newmarket in England, where modern Thoroughbred racehorses originated. The first races were match races between two or at most three horses, with the winning owner collecting half of the purse (the total amount of money paid to entrants who finish in the top four or five positions). The matches were documented by disinterested parties who came to be known as keepers of the match book.

In the early days, match races were contested under brutal conditions. Runners were forced to run in straight lines, with the jockeys using a long whip on their backs and often kicking them in the ribcage to inspire speed. A jockey who flinched in the heat of battle could be thrown from his horse and killed. This brutality led to the development of more humane training methods. The use of drugs to enhance performance also became widespread. The Romans used a mixture called hydromel, and punishment for cheating in a horse race included crucifixion. In the 1700s, Britain began to regulate the industry and banned the use of “exciting substances” in 1812. After thoroughbred racing crossed the Atlantic, the United States gained a reputation for innovation when it comes to the use of illegal drugs to improve a horse’s performance and mask pain. The lack of regulation fuels corruption and greed.

The horse races in this article take place at tracks across the country, from state fairs to the prestigious Preakness Stakes in Maryland. These horse races are the most prestigious in America, and offer the largest purses, or sums of money awarded to entrants who finish in the winner’s circle. The winners’ earnings can be influenced by the number of other horses they are competing against, the amount of weight they are required to carry, their position in the starting gate, their sex, and their training.

When a horse is injured in a race, the owners may choose not to disclose that fact and continue to race it until the injury causes permanent lameness. This is horrible for the horse, which may then end up at auction, where it can be sold into the slaughter pipeline. Random drug testing is in place, but egregious violations are common.

Behind the romanticized facade of horse racing is a world of injuries, drug abuse, and gruesome breakdowns. While spectators show off their fancy outfits and sip mint juleps, the racehorses are running for their lives. Some of them, like Seabiscuit and Man o’ War, will go on to become legendary. Others will be injured, over-raced, and break down; some will even be killed. Some will be rescued, but most will end their lives in a slaughterhouse.