What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a competition in which horses are ridden by jockeys and bettors wager on the outcome. The earliest recorded horse races date back to 700 to 40 B.C. in Greece, but the sport later spread to other countries. While some national rules differ, the general principle is the same across horse racing organizations: the stewards determine the winner of each race by studying photographs of the finish line and declaring the horse that crossed the line first.

In the United States, the race designations Grade 1 (G1) and Grade 2 (G2) designate higher quality races. The number of horses in a race and the size of the purse are other factors in determining its grade. A horse may also be given a specific weight, a practice that allows jockeys to match horses of different abilities by assigning a weight that equalizes the chances of each horse to win. The weights are based on the experience, age, class and sex of each horse and can be determined by a race secretary or track handicapper.

Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred horse racing lies a world of brutal training practices, drug abuse, injuries and breakdowns, and slaughter. The animals are forced to sprint — often under the threat of whips and illegal electric shock devices — at speeds that can cause serious, life-threatening injuries, including hemorrhage in the lungs.

For many Americans, watching a horse race is the quintessential American sporting event. The thrill of the thundering hooves in a horse race and the roar of the crowd is a timeless, iconic experience that is enjoyed by both fans and non-fans alike. While trophies, money and adulation are attractive incentives for human athletes, they are irrelevant to horses whose main concern is survival.

The human element of horse racing is what some call anthropomorphism, or attributing human characteristics to an animal. The screams of victory and defeat, the cheering crowds and the rhythmic shouts of imprecations have an unmistakable effect on the horses themselves. This feeling is heightened when the horses reach the stretch of the race and run toward the finishing line at top speed.

Some executives and governance observers are uncomfortable with the classic succession “horse race” model, in which several candidates compete openly to be the next chief executive officer. However, companies that use this approach to select the best leader have an excellent record of success. The challenge is to make sure the horse race does not become a prolonged contest that saps business momentum and makes it harder for the best candidate to emerge.