What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a competition involving many horses in which bettors place wagers on the winner. The word can also refer to a close contest, such as a political election. It was first used in the 19th century to describe a political contest, but it seems to have morphed into a generic term for any form of close competition.

In a horse race, each competitor must try to outrun the others by putting maximum effort into their running. This can be painful for the animals, and it is therefore important to provide them with the encouragement they need to keep up the pace. This encouragement is often in the form of whipping, but it can take other forms as well: dilating the horse’s nostrils to increase oxygen intake; rubbing a horse’s back to stimulate its muscles and encourage movement; and feeding it special feed that gives it extra strength.

As the sport of racing evolved, it became increasingly common to use medications to give horses an edge. The Romans, for example, were known to administer a stimulant called hydromel to their racehorses before a race. The drug was known to be a powerful stimulant, and it helped the horses keep up with the faster competitors. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the popularity of racing led to the development of rules for eligibility based on age, sex, birthplace, and previous performance. The rules also included requirements for owners and riders. They regulated the number of races each horse could run, and they prohibited betting by women.

On a cloudless, warm California morning in early July, eleven horses lined up for the day’s first race at Santa Anita. The field was small, and all eyes were on War of Will, that year’s Preakness champion, who broke from the gate and hung a steady lead around the clubhouse turn. Mongolian Groom was a few lengths behind him, and McKinzie was a nose further back.

The track was dirt, a deep and slow surface that required the horses to put maximum effort into their running. The lower hind legs of the horses, particularly those of the racehorses, take a tremendous pounding when they are running at top speed, straining ligaments, tendons, and joints. To make sure his mount stayed in the hunt, McKinzie wrapped the lower hind legs of his horse in blue bandages. This is a common practice because horses can startle at shadows on the ground and kick themselves, a habit that is particularly dangerous when they are tired. McKinzie himself wore a heavy blue hood to help him stay focused, and he placed a shadow roll on his face, as horses can startle at the sound of their own voices.

As the race progressed, all three runners fought hard for every inch of ground, and the pack was huddled in tight formation. It would take extraordinary skill and judgment for a rider to get a horse into the lead with a few furlongs to go.