Horse races may have evolved from primitive contests of speed or stamina to a multimillion-dollar entertainment industry, but the basic concept is still the same. The horse that crosses the finish line first wins. Behind the glamorous facade of the sport lies a world of injuries, drugs, and gruesome breakdowns that often end in euthanasia or a trip to the slaughterhouse. The racehorses are pushed past their limits, then sprayed with cocktails of legal and illegal substances that mask injuries and enhance performance.
The horse’s coat is a good indicator of its health, and when it looks bright and rippling with sweat in the walking ring, the beast is believed to be ready to run. A betor can also look at the number on its back, a code that indicates its claiming status. A claiming horse will carry more weight than one with a high class or stakes tag.
Before a race, many horses are injected with Lasix or Salix, which is noted on the racing form with a boldface “L.” The drug has long been the standard of care for Thoroughbreds and is believed to prevent pulmonary bleeding (blood in the lungs) that hard running causes. The horses are also given water and a sedative to keep them calm.
A jockey, a skilled rider who steers the horse around the course while jumping hurdles if present, is also essential to the success of a race. The jockeys wear specialized clothes with padding and straps to protect them from the sharp, rough surfaces of the tracks. In addition, they use specially designed whips, and they are attached to the horse with a safety harness that connects the girth to the saddle.
Many horse races are handicapped, which means the horses compete with fixed amounts of weight that are adjusted on the basis of age, distance, sex, and other factors. A two-year-old will typically carry more weight than a five-year-old, and a filly will usually carry less weight than a gelding.
Until recently, the popularity of horse racing was fading in America, but since the deaths of 23 horses at Santa Anita Park in California, there has been an increase in public concern about animal welfare. The industry has vowed to make significant changes to safety regulations, but new legislation would dismantle the year-old national authority in charge of regulating medication and safety.
A bettor can place multiple bets on a single race, and the amount of money wagered is paid out based on the final placement of each horse in the race. The winning horse is awarded the prize money, while the other runners receive a share of the total pool. Several different types of bets can be placed on the race, including straight bets, parlays, and exotics. In the United States, bettors can also place bets on races held outside of the country. The Grand National is a popular choice for international bettors. In addition, there are a variety of betting sites available on the Internet that offer online wagering.