Questions about the sport of horse racing, an equestrian sport in which riders race horses around a predefined course.
Horse racing is one of the oldest known sports, with records of equestrian competitions including races of various types found in records from ancient Babylonian, Syrian, Greek and Egyptian archaeological sites. Various forms became popular in the United Kingdom and Europe among the royalty and aristocrats, and spread from there to British colonies including the United States, where it became a popular pastime for industrial moguls. Between the winner's purse values and the long historical association with gambling, horse racing is currently a $115 billion industry.
There are four main types of true racing commonly seen in the West:
Flat Racing - The most common in the U.S., flat races are typically held on an oval dirt track one mile in length, with no obstacles except the other horses. Some tracks have grass turf; these tracks offer a different feel for the horse and rider and are less susceptible to weather variations, but also require more maintenance to preserve the grass and resurface the ground underneath. Most of the traditional flat races in the United States, including the three "Triple Crown" races and most "stakes" races, are limited to Thoroughbreds, a particular tall, light-framed breed intended for racing. Other competitions, mainly shorter distances, are open to more breeds, including the American Quarter Horse, a breed specifically developed for short sprints (so named because, over the quarter mile, a Quarter Horse can beat a Thoroughbred).
The race is typically controlled with a device called a starting gate, located at the beginning of the home stretch of the oval track, and consisting of a series of bays into which the horses and riders are directed, each bay with a spring-loaded locking gate with a device that opens all gates simultaneously, usually also accompanied by an electric bell. The riders then race around the track for one lap, back around to the home stretch to the finish line, called the "post", typically located just before the initial turn (the actual length of the track is thus slightly less than a mile).
Harness Racing - Common in Britain, less so in the U.S., harness racing typically employs a breed called the Standardbred, slightly larger and heavier than the Thoroughbred, which pulls a two-wheeled trailer harnessed to the horse's midriff and with the wheels to either side of and just behind the horse's rear legs, in which the rider sits. Race lengths and formats are otherwise very similar to flat racing and can be done on the same track as part of the schedule of races for the day.
Steeplechasing - Again more common and popular in Britain than the U.S., the steeplechase, also known as jump racing or the national hunt, is run on a variant of the flat track or on a dedicated linear course, which has a number of jumps over fences and hedges followed by trenches of water, which the horse and rider must clear during the race. A steeplechase track can be incorporated into the grounds of a flat track by adding the jumps to the infield and removing a section of rail to redirect riders. A number of breeds excel at this type of racing, including Thoroughbreds and Arabians.
Endurance/Cross Country - Endurance races are run over very long distances, sometimes thousands of miles, most of it over natural terrain, most commonly desert. These events are similar in theory to dogsledding races like the Iditarod, and various motorsports such as Baja and rally racing. Racers must pace their mounts to avoid exhaustion, and must also manage food and sleep for horse and rider over the course of the race. The breed most favored is the Arabian, an ancient breed adapted for life and work in arid climates. The breed is fast, and also jumps and climbs well, and typically needs less water than breeds adapted for more temperate climates.