A horse race is a sporting event in which horses compete over short distances, usually less than one mile. It is the most popular spectator sport in North America, and it attracts millions of fans every year to tracks across the country. While some people find the idea of racing animals to be abhorrent, others believe that it is a sport that requires a high level of skill and judgment from its competitors. Still others believe that the industry has improved in recent years, and that a growing awareness of animal cruelty and doping have helped make the sport better for the participants.
A jockey is the person who rides a racehorse. His or her job is to steer the animal through a series of obstacles and around turns as quickly as possible without causing injury. The jockey also needs to communicate with the trainer and bettors, and he or she must keep the horses under control and in good shape.
There are several different types of races, each with its own unique rules and traditions. The most common are flat races, where horses run around a two-turn course. These are generally shorter than other races, and the success of a jockey is often judged by how well he or she can coax a horse to run its fastest from the start.
Other types of races involve jumping, in which horses must vault over obstacles or leap from one fence to another. European jumps horses typically begin their careers in National Hunt flat races as juveniles, then move on to hurdling after a few years, and eventually, if they are thought capable, to steeplechasing.
An official called a handicapper assigns weights to each horse competing in a race. These are based on past performance, and higher weights are assigned to the more accomplished horses. These weights help even out the playing field among horses of equal ability, and are a key element in determining whether or not a horse will win.
Some races are considered stakes races, in which the highest level of prize money is awarded. A race may also be designated as a handicapped race, which means that the handicapper has added a certain amount of money to the total purse.
The Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes are three of the most famous stakes races in the world. In addition to these, there are a number of other races of comparable quality. Many of these are graded, with the “grade” being determined by the size of the purse and the history of the race. Some races are restricted to horses of a particular type or to those sired by certain stallions. In addition, some races are substitute races, in which the runner-up of a regular race will receive priority in entering a substitution.