What You May Not Know About Horse Races

Horse races draw crowds of thousands, and television viewers watch in anticipation. Despite this popularity, racing has struggled for years to attract new fans. A study commissioned by the Jockey Club admits that the sport is losing market share to other gambling activities. New would-be fans are also turned off by scandals involving safety and doping. The sport faces a long climb to repair its image.

Horse-race terminology can be confusing. Here are some words you may hear:

A horse’s “classic age” is when it reaches full ability. Many horses race beyond this point, and some are known for winning great races — such as Secretariat’s 31-length demolition job in the Belmont Stakes, Arkle’s victory in 1964, or Sea Bird’s six-length routing of an international field in 1965.

Injuries, breakdowns, and drug use have plagued the racing industry for decades. While some improvements have been made, the exploitation of horses continues.

Horses are often pushed beyond their limits, and they are subjected to cocktails of legal and illegal drugs designed to mask injuries and enhance performance. For example, many horses bleed from their lungs during exercise, a condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. To reduce this bleeding, trainers give their horses drugs such as Lasix or Salix.

Other popular drugs include narcotics, antipsychotics, and growth hormones. Until recently, racing officials didn’t have the testing capacity to detect these substances, and penalties for breaking rules were often weak. Modern medications complicate the doping picture: Powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories designed for humans bleed over into training preparation, as do antipsychotics and other drugs for treating epilepsy.

One way to evaluate a horse’s health and readiness is to look at its coat in the walking ring before a race. If a horse’s coat is bright and rippling, it is believed to be healthy and ready to run. On the other hand, a dull coat indicates that the horse is unhealthy and should not be raced.

Some governance experts are wary of the “horse race” approach to choosing a company’s next CEO. They worry that a contest with multiple recognized candidates can derail the selection process by distracting attention from important issues. They also note that, depending on how the contest is managed, a horse race can result in the loss of strong leaders deeper within the organization who might have aligned themselves with an unsuccessful candidate. However, some of the world’s best-known companies have successfully used the horse race method to select top leaders.