Categories: Gambling

History of the Horse Race

A horse race is a contest of speed between horses that are either ridden by jockeys or pulled by sulkies and drivers. The sport has a long and distinguished history. It is recorded in the ancient Olympic Games and in many other historical documents, and it plays an important role in mythology, such as in Norse legends about Odin’s steed Hrungnir. It is also well-established that horse racing was a popular form of entertainment in prehistory.

The first horse races were probably chariot or mounted (bareback) competitions. Such competitions were very popular in the Middle East and Asia and, later, in Europe. By the time that organized horse racing was introduced to the European continent, it had already become a highly specialized activity. It was standardized and regulated by law in the United Kingdom in 1751, when six-year-olds were required to carry 168 pounds in 4-mile heats to qualify for the King’s Plates. The same weight requirement was applied to other races, and the winner was declared if it won two or more heats. This remained the standard in Europe until the 1860s, when five- and four-year-olds were admitted to the King’s Plates and other races reduced to three miles.

In the early 19th century, racing officials began instituting penalties for illegal substances used to enhance the performance of horses. The use of cocaine, heroin, strychnine, and caffeine became common. These drugs boosted the energy of horses and helped them run faster. They were particularly effective in the short dash races that were becoming the norm in most racing areas.

In addition to these illegal substances, there were a number of legitimate medical treatments that could help a horse perform better. These included the use of liniment to reduce friction on the horses’ legs, the administration of fluids to increase the blood supply, and the inhalation of oxygen, known as “puffing.”

In spite of these efforts, a horse’s natural ability to race at great speed could not be maintained. During races, the horses would tire and need to be encouraged to go on. The riders often whipped their mounts to keep them running hard. The pounding of the lower legs of racehorses, especially on oval tracks, causes severe injury to ligaments, tendons, and joints. To protect their lower legs, racehorses wore padded, blue, thigh-length pants, and many carried a shadow roll over their noses to prevent them from being startled by the shadows of their own bodies on the track. The latter measure was especially important because racehorses can be very quick to react to a shadow on the ground.

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