What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest of speed or endurance between two horses. While the sport has developed from primitive contests between a couple of beasts to a spectacle involving massive fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and immense sums of money, its essential concept remains unchanged: the winner is the horse that crosses the finish line first. A race may take place on a variety of surfaces, and it can be any length of time. Sprints are usually regarded as tests of acceleration, while long-distance races are seen as tests of stamina.

Despite its long history, horse racing is not without controversy. Many trainers employ the controversial practice of drugging their horses, allegedly to make them faster and to help them power through pain. One particularly insidious substance is furosemide, sold under the brand name Lasix, a powerful diuretic that is also an effective performance-enhancing agent. The drug’s use in racing is particularly vehemently opposed by animal welfare advocates.

The race at Santa Anita began with a field of eleven runners. The favored horse, War of Will, broke out of the gate with a clean run. He held the lead around the clubhouse turn, and his jockey, Abel Cedillo, urged him on by riding hard with his whip. The horse responded with a burst of speed, but he seemed to tire near the top of the homestretch and fell slightly behind his stablemate, Mongolian Groom.

In betting terms, a horse that finishes in the top four is said to be “in the money.” This generally entitles the owner to a substantial share of the purse. A jockey who wins a race is called a champion. Typically, champions are considered to have the “look of eagles.”

As the runners entered the home stretch, the crowd roared its approval. But the screams of disapproval from the back of the grandstand were mixed with hoots that had a particular rhythm and ring, like universal imprecations. Some of the curses, chanted in Spanish and Chinese as well as English, were directed at jockeys, owners, or trainers who failed to produce fast horses.

The outcome of the race was no surprise, but it was still a nail-biter. Afterward, a reporter wrote, “Horse race journalism is alive and well in Nevada.” The phrase has been used to describe political contests for decades, but this election appears to have given it new relevance. It has led some critics to suggest that news organizations should do less horse race coverage and more reporting on the potential impact of a presidential campaign.

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