A horse race is a contest between two or more horses run over a set distance. The race may take place on a track, in the ring or in the open field. The winning horse is the one that crosses the finish line first. The race has a variety of rules and regulations that must be followed in order to ensure the safety of both horses and spectators. The sport has developed from a primitive contest of speed or stamina to a huge public entertainment business that requires sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment and enormous sums of money. The basic principle remains unchanged, however.

The race procedure begins in the paddock, the area at the track where the horses are saddled and paraded past an official for inspection. The jockeys, or riders, then enter the starting gate to await their mounts. Once the horses are mounted, they begin a slow walk toward the starting line and then jump to start their running. A jockey who jumps well is said to have jumped “cleanly.”

After the horse races, spectators are invited into the winner’s circle, where winners receive their awards. Often, the winner receives a hat and jacket to commemorate their victory. The hat and jacket may be of a color that represents the horse’s stable. The jacket is traditionally red, but it can be any color that the horse’s stable owners desire. The prize money for the winner of a horse race can range from a few hundred to millions of dollars.

Most thoroughbreds are born to run, but they must be conditioned to race in a way that does not strain their joints and ligaments. It is not easy for a horse to run fast for an extended period of time, especially on an oval track. To do so, the horses lower legs must be subjected to a brutal pounding that can strain ligaments and tendons. The horse must also be encouraged to keep going when it is tired, and this is accomplished by whipping it.

Those who bet on horses often look at the horse’s coat in the walking ring before the race to see if it is bright and rippling with muscled excitement. A horse that balks at the starting gate, as Mongolian Groom did, is generally believed to be frightened or angry. At the same time, bettors watch to see if a horse’s tail is raised, which suggests that it is eager to begin running.

Bettors wager on horses based on their chances of finishing first, second or third in the race. Winning bettors get all of the money that they have staked, including a share of the money wagered by losers (takeout). A bet to win is more risky than a bet to place or show. A bet to show is a safer option because it pays out only if the horse finishes in either first or second place. A bet to win pays the most, but there are also large payoffs for a horse that wins first or second.