The Rules of a Horse Race

Horse races have evolved over the centuries from primitive contests of speed and stamina between two horses to a modern sport that involves enormous fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and vast sums of money. But the basic concept remains unchanged: the first horse to cross the finish line wins.

As a result, the world’s top horses must be in the best physical and mental condition to have any chance of winning. Horses that do not perform well or have any major health problems will quickly find themselves out of contention for the most prestigious races, such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in the United States, and the Caulfield Cup and Sydney Cup in Australia.

To be considered a contender for one of these races, a horse must meet certain criteria, including its age and weight. The youngest horses must be at least four years old, while the heaviest must be at least seventeen pounds or more. A horse must also have a certain number of races under its belt, and it must show a record of good fitness and soundness during its career.

The first step in determining a horse’s eligibility for a race is to have it evaluated by a veterinarian. After a thorough examination, the vet will give a veterinary report to the stewards and a certificate of fitness. The stewards will then approve the horse for the race and will assign it a post position.

During the early days of horse racing, matches were arranged between two or more horses, with the owner providing the purse and a simple wager. The winner was credited with the total amount of bets placed on him, and agreements were recorded by disinterested third parties who came to be known as keepers of the match books. One such keeper, John Cheny at Newmarket in England, published An Historical List of All the Horse-Matches Run (1729).

The history of organized horse races in North America began with the British occupation of New Amsterdam in 1664. Colonel Richard Nicolls laid out a 2-mile course on the plains and offered silver cups for the best performances in the spring and fall. The sport developed rapidly in the following decades and, until after the Civil War, was based mainly on speed.

Before the start of the race, bettors looked at a horse’s coat in the walking ring to see if it was bright and rippling with sweat, a sure sign that the animal is ready to run. Then the jockeys stepped aboard and the horses took off down the track. As they ran, their hooves pounded the dirt and made a roaring whistling noise that resembled a human cough. The roaring was a sign of pulmonary bleeding that hard running can cause in some horses. To prevent this, most horses are injected with a diuretic on race day, and their Lasix use is noted on the betting form.