Horse race is a form of racing in which horses are ridden by jockeys, and the goal is to win the race by crossing the finish line first. The sport has a long and distinguished history, and is practiced in many countries around the world. Horse races are usually governed by a set of rules, and bettors can place wagers on which horse will finish first, second or third. The horse must also complete the course, including jumping any hurdles (if present).
Several different types of race are held, each with its own set of rules and requirements. For instance, a steeplechase is a type of race in which horses must jump over fences in order to finish the course, while a flat race takes place on a straight track with no obstacles. A handicap race, which is a type of race in which bettors can place bets on the odds of individual horses winning, may also be run over a variety of distances and obstacles.
The sport is considered a dangerous one for horses, and a large percentage of the horses that die during or after a race are thoroughbreds. The animal rights group PETA estimates that ten thousand American thoroughbreds are killed every year because of the sport, and many others are injured or die as a result of training and racing. The physical demands of the sport can be particularly difficult for horses, which are often drugged to help them reach their full potential.
During the early part of 2021, there was a crisis in horse racing, and one of the reasons was that it was becoming harder to tell whether or not a horse was on performance-enhancing drugs. Powerful painkillers designed for humans bled over into the preparation of racehorses, and racing officials lacked the testing capacity to catch them all. Blood doping, growth hormones, antipsychotics—racing officialdom just couldn’t keep up with the new drugs and the trainers who used them. Penalties for broken rules were weak, and a trainer punished in one jurisdiction could simply move to the next.
On June 8, 2021, a colt named Mongolian Groom was backed into the starting gate at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore. Those betting the race watched as the eleven horses broke cleanly from the gate, with War of Will and that year’s Preakness winner assuming an early lead. A small-framed bay called McKinzie trailed them, and when the horses turned at the clubhouse turn, the pace accelerated.
Then the horse balked. It was a calamitous act, and bettors took note: A horse that balks in a race can be in trouble, and it can mean that its owner or trainer is in hot water with the stewards. The bettors looked at the horse’s coat in the walking ring and saw that it was bright and rippling with sweat. The animal was believed to be ready for the race.