A horse race is a contest between two horses or teams of riders over a set distance. The first horse or riders to cross the finish line win the race. The word race is also used to refer to any contest, game, or activity between people.

Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred horse racing lies a world of injuries, drugs abuse and gruesome breakdowns. Pushed beyond their limits, the horses hurl themselves down the track at such speeds that they often suffer from hemorrhage from their lungs, a medical condition known as exercise-induced pulmonary bleeding. To mask these injuries, many are given a cocktail of legal and illegal drugs designed to enhance performance and cover up the bleeding.

Horse races are run over flat courses ranging in length from 440 yards (400 m) to more than four miles (6 km). The distances of short races, known as sprints in the United States and as route races in Europe, are generally seen as tests of speed, while longer races, which require powerful acceleration and sustained stamina, are usually viewed as tests of endurance.

The pace at which a horse runs depends on the speed and fitness of the animal, its trainer, and its environment. The most successful horses are those that can use a combination of specialized muscles to build up speed and maintain their speed through the course of the race, or “turn of foot.”

One way of assessing a horse’s potential is to look at its past performances. A horse’s race record, earnings and bloodlines are recorded in its past-performance chart, which contains a wealth of information that can help predict whether it will perform well in a particular race.

For example, a chart can show how the horse has finished in previous races over different surfaces, its ability to accelerate and its ability to keep up with the leaders. In addition, the chart can provide a snapshot of the horse’s overall health and fitness, as evidenced by its weight at various times during a race.

Another important piece of information on a past-performance chart is the horse’s “weights.” These are the fixed amounts of weight that a horse must carry in each race, determined by its age, distance, sex and time of year.

The weights are a major factor in how much a bettor is paid when betting to place. The number of places paid varies depending on the size of the field, with higher stakes races paying out more. In general, a wager to place is more profitable than placing a bet to win.