About Horse Racing

Overview

Horse racing is an equestrian sport that has a long history. Archaeological records indicate that horse racing occurred in ancient Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. Both chariot and mounted horse racing were events in the ancient Greek Olympics by 648 BC. In the Roman Empire, chariot and mounted horse racing were major industries. Thoroughbred racing was popular with the aristocrats and royalty of British society, earning it the title “Sport of Kings.”

The style of racing, the distances and the type of events vary significantly by the country in which the race is occurring, and many countries offer different types of horse races. There are three major types of racing: flat racing, steeplechasing (racing over jumps), and harness racing, where horses trot or pace while pulling a driver in a sulky. A major part of horse racings economic importance lies in the gambling associated with it, an activity that in 2008 generated a world-wide market worth around US$115 billion.

Various types of racing have given rise to horse breeds that excel in the specific disciplines of each sport. Breeds that may be used for flat racing include the Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, Arabian, Paint, and Appaloosa. Steeplechasing breeds include the Thoroughbred and AQPS. Harness racing is dominated by Standard bred horses in Australia, New Zealand and North America, but several other breeds, such as the Russian Trotter and Finnhorse, are seen in Europe.

Horse Racing in Australia

Horse racing in Australia was founded during the early years of settlement and the industry has grown to be among the top three leading Thoroughbred racing nations of the world. The world famous Melbourne Cup, the race that stops a nation, has recently attracted many international entries. In country racing, records indicate that Goulburn commenced racing in 1834. Australia’s first country racing club was established at Wallabadah in 1852 and the Wallabadah Cup is still held on New Year’s Day (the current racecourse was built in 1898).

In Australia, the most famous racehorse was Phar Lap (bred in New Zealand), who raced from 1928 to 1932. Phar Lap carried 62.5 kg to win the 1930 Melbourne Cup.

Australian steeplechaser Crisp is remembered for his battle with Irish champion Red Rum in the 1973 Grand National. In 2003–2005 the mare Makybe Diva (bred in Great Britain) became the only racehorse to ever win the Melbourne Cup three times, let alone in consecutive years.

In harness racing, Cane Smoke had 120 wins, including 34 in a single season, Paleface Adios became a household name during the 1970s, while Cardigan Bay, a pacing horse from New Zealand, enjoyed great success at the highest levels of American harness racing in the 1960s. More recently, Blacks A Fake has won four Inter Dominion Championships, making him the only horse to complete this feat in Australasia’s premier harness race.

Competitive endurance riding commenced in Australia in 1966, when the Tom Quilty Gold Cup was first held in the Hawkesbury district, near Sydney, New South Wales. The Quilty Cup is considered the National endurance ride and there are now over 100 endurance events contested across Australia, ranging in distances from 80 km to 400 km. The world’s longest endurance ride is the Shahzada 400 km Memorial Test which is conducted over five days travelling 80 kilometres a day at St Albans on the Hawkesbury River, New South Wales. In all endurance events there are rigorous vet checks, conducted before, during and after the competition, in which the horses’ welfare is of the utmost concern.

Betting in Horse Racing

In North American racing, the three most common ways to bet money are to win, to place, and to show. A bet to win, sometimes called a “straight” bet, means that you stake money on the horse, and if it comes in first place, the bet is a winner. In a bet to place, you are betting on your horse to finish either first, second, and/or third, depending on how many horses are in the race; for example, in a race with 5 horses a place bet would only be for first and second place, but in a race with 10 horses you bet on your horse to finish first, second, or third. A bet to show wins if the horse finishes first, second or third. Since it is much easier to select a horse to finish first, second or third than it is to select a horse just for first, the show pay-offs will be much lower on average than win pay-offs.

In Europe, Australia and Asia, betting to place is different since the number of “payout places” varies depending on the size of the field that takes part in the race. For example, in a race with seven or less runners in the UK, only the first two finishers would be considered winning bets with most bookmakers. Three places are paid for eight or more runners, whilst a handicap race with 16 runners or more will see the first four places being classed as “placed”. A show bet does not exist in the North American sense.

The term “Each-Way” bet is used everywhere but North America, and has a different meaning depending on the location. An each-way (or E/W) bet sees the total bet being split in two, with half being placed on the win, and half on the place. Bettors receive a payout if the horse either wins, and/or is placed based on the place criteria as stated above. The full odds are paid if the horse wins, (plus the place portion), with a quarter or a fifth of the odds (depending on the race-type and the number of runners) if only the place section of the bet is successful. In the UK some bookmakers will pay for the first five (some independent firms have even paid the first six) for a place on the Grand National.

The additional concession is offered because of the large number of runners in the race (maximum 40). Occasionally other handicap races with large fields (numbers of runners) receive the same treatment from various bookmakers, especially if they are sponsoring the race. The rough equivalent in North America is an “across the board” bet, where equal bets on a horse are set to win, place and show.

The Dangers of Horse Racing

There are many dangers in horse racing for both horse and jockey: a horse can stumble and fall, or fall when jumping an obstacle, exposing both jockey and horse to the danger of being trampled and injured.

Anna Waller, a member of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of North Carolina, co-authored a four-year-long study of jockey injuries and stated to the New York Times that “For every 1,000 jockeys you have riding, over 600 will have medically treated injuries.” She added that almost 20% of these were serious head or neck injuries. The study reported 6,545 injuries during the years 1993–1996. More than 100 jockeys were killed in the US between 1950 and 1987.

Horses also face dangers in racing. 1.5 horses die out of every 1000 starts in the US. The U.S. Jockey Club in New York estimates that about 600 horses died at racetracks in 2006. The Jockey Club in Hong Kong reported a far lower figure of .58 horses per 1000 starts. There is speculation that drugs used in horse racing in the US which are banned elsewhere are responsible for the higher death rate in the US.