A horse race is a contest of speed and stamina between horses, the winner being declared by whichever one crosses the finish line first. It has evolved from a primitive contest to a huge global entertainment industry, but its basic concept remains the same. A race can be run over various distances, depending on custom and the traditions of a particular country. It can be a handicapped race in which the winning horse is determined by a system of weightings that takes into account factors such as a horse’s age, sex, and previous performance. It may also be a stakes race in which the winning horse is guaranteed to win a certain amount of money.

The earliest written accounts of horse racing are found in ancient texts such as Homer’s Iliad, which dates to around the 9th or 8th century bce. Both four-hitch chariot and mounted (bareback) races were a common feature of the Olympic Games of 700-40 bce, and organized horse racing was also widely practiced in China, Persia, and Arabia.

Modern horse races are characterized by a number of different rules that regulate how horses must be bred, trained, and prepared for competition. Some of these rules are designed to promote fairness and safety in the sport, while others are intended to encourage the development of the best horses. For example, all racehorses must be at least three years old before they can compete in major American races such as the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, which make up the Triple Crown series. In addition, a horse must have won at least a specified amount of money in order to qualify for the Breeders’ Cup, a series of elite races that are held each year.

Horses are pushed hard in races, and many will suffer injuries that prevent them from finishing. As a result, the animal rights group PETA estimates that ten thousand American thoroughbreds will be slaughtered every year. To help them get to the starting gate, the industry uses cocktails of legal and illegal drugs designed to mask injuries and enhance performance. These include painkillers, anti-inflammatories, growth hormones, and blood doping. The drug testing systems employed by racing officials are inadequate to detect most of these substances, and the penalties for breaking the rules are often weak.

A growing number of people attend horse races to place bets on the outcome of each race. These bets can be placed on either individual horses or accumulator bets in which multiple bets are made at the same time. Betting on horse races is a popular pastime throughout the world, and in the United States it is a multibillion-dollar business. For many fans, it is the primary reason for going to a racetrack. However, some people are concerned about the exploitation of racehorses and the potential for corruption within the industry. This has led to calls for reform of horse racing. The industry may have a difficult time adjusting to the changes in culture and technology that are happening all around it, but it has an opportunity to help itself by taking steps to improve the lives of its athletes.