Sunday, February 13, 2011

Horse Racing

Horse Racing is an equestrian sport that has been practiced for millennia. It is inextricably associated with gambling. The common sobriquet for Thoroughbred horse racing is The Sport of Kings. Horse racing is an equestrian sport and major international industry, watched in almost every nation of the world. There are three types: "flat" racing; steeplechasing, i.e. racing over jumps; and harness racing, where horses trot or pace while pulling a driver in a small, light cart known as a sulky. A major part of horse racing's economic importance lies in the gambling associated with it, an activity that in 2008 generated a world-wide market worth around US$115 billion. Historically, equestrians honed their skills through games and races. Equestrian sports provided entertainment for crowds and honed the excellent horsemanship that was needed in battle. Horse racing of all types evolved from impromptu competitions between riders or drivers. All forms of competition, requiring demanding and specialized skills from both horse and rider, resulted in the systematic development of specialized breeds and equipment for each sport. Chariot racing was one of the most popular ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine sports. Chariot racing was often dangerous to both driver and horse as they frequently suffered serious injury and even death, but generated strong spectator enthusiasm. In the ancient Olympic Games, as well as the other Panhellenic Games, the sport was one of the most important equestrian events. In mythology, horse racing was also a part of myth and legend, such as the contest between the steeds of the god Odin and the giant Hrungnir in Norse mythology. The popularity of equestrian sports through the centuries has resulted in the preservation of skills that would otherwise have disappeared after horses stopped being used in combat.

While the attention of horse racing fans and the media is focused almost exclusively on the horse's performance on the racetrack, or for male horses possibly its success as a sire, little publicity is given to brood mares. Such is the case of La Troienne, one of the most important mares of the 20th century to whom many of the greatest thoroughbred champions, and dams of champions, can be traced. In most horse races, including both flat and steeplechases, the pedigree of the horse is one of the things that allow it to race: the horse must have a sire (father) and a dam (mother) who are purebred individuals of whatever breed is racing.[citation needed] For example, in a normal harness race, the horses sire and dam must both be pure Standardbreds. The only exception to this is in Quarter Horse racing where an Appendixed Quarter Horse may be considered eligible to race against (standard) Quarter Horses. An appendixed Quarter Horse is a horse who has either one Quarter Horse parent and one parent of any other eligible breed (such as Thoroughbred, the most common Appendixed cross), or both parents are registered Appendixed Quarter Horses, or one parent is a Quarter Horse and one parent is an Appendixed Quarter Horse. The designation of "Appendixed" refers to the addendum section, or Appendix, of the Official Quarter Horse registry. AQHA also issues a "Racing Register of Merit" which allows a horse to race on Quarter Horse tracks, but not be considered a Quarter Horse for breeding purposes (unless other requirements are met). A stallion who has won many races may be put up to stud when he is retired. Embryo transfer technology (only allowed in some breeds) has brought changes to the traditions and ease of breeding. Pedigrees of some stallions are recorded in Weatherbys Stallion Book and pedigrees of recent Stakes race winners can be found on sites such as Thoroughbred pedigrees are at: Australian Stud Book and Thoroughbred pedigree database: Pedigree Query. At many horse races, there is a gambling station, where gamblers can stake money on a horse. Gambling on horses is prohibited at some tracks; the nationally renowned Colonial Cup Steeplechase in Camden, South Carolina, is known as one of the races where betting is illegal, due to a 1951 law. Where gambling is allowed, most tracks offer Parimutuel betting where gamblers' money is pooled and shared proportionally among the winners once a deduction is made from the pool. In some countries, such as UK, Ireland and Australia, an alternative and more popular facility is provided by bookmakers who effectively make a market in odds. This allows the gambler to 'lock in' odds on a horse at a particular time (known as 'taking the price' in the UK). Parimutuel gambling on races also provides not only purse money to participants but considerable tax revenue, with over $100 billion wagered annually in 53 countries.

In North American racing, the three most common ways to bet money are to win, to place, and to show. A bet to win, sometimes called a "straight" bet, means that you stake money on the horse, and if it comes in first place, the bet is a winner. In a bet to place, you are betting on your horse to finish either first or second. A bet to show wins if the horse finishes first, second or third. Since it is much easier to select a horse to finish first, second or third than it is to select a horse just for first, the show payoffs will be much lower on average than win payoffs. In Europe, Australia and Asia, betting to place is different since the number of "payout places" varies depending on the size of the field that takes part in the race. For example, in a race with seven or less runners in the UK, only the first two finishers would be considered winning bets with most bookmakers. Three places are paid for eight or more runners, whilst a handicap race with 16 runners or more will see the first four places being classed as "placed". (A show bet does not exist in the North American sense.) The term "Each-Way" bet is used everywhere but North America, and has a different meaning depending on the location. An each-way (or E/W) bet sees the total bet being split in two, with half being placed on the win, and half on the place. Bettors receive a payout if the horse either wins, and/or is placed based on the place criteria as stated above. The full odds are paid if the horse wins, (plus the place portion), with a quarter or a fifth of the odds (depending on the race-type and the number of runners) if only the place section of the bet is successful. In the UK some bookmakers will pay for the first five (some independent firms have even paid the first six) for a place on the Grand National. This additional concession is offered because of the large number of runners in the race (maximum 40). Occasionally other handicap races with large fields (numbers of runners) receive the same treatment from various bookmakers, especially if they are sponsoring the race. The rough equivalent in North America is an "across the board" bet, where equal bets on a horse are set to win, place and show. Each portion is treated by the totalizator as a separate bet, so an across-the-board bet is merely a convenience for bettors and parimutuel clerks. For instance, if a $2 across-the-board bet (total outlay of $6) were staked on a horse which finished second, paying $4.20 to place and $3.00 to show, the bettor would receive $7.20 on what is essentially a $6 wager. In addition to traditional betting with a bookmaker, punters are able to both back and lay money on an online betting exchange. Punters who lay the odds are in effect acting as a bookmaker. The odds of a horse are set by the market conditions of the betting exchange which is dictated to by the activity of the members.

Organized groups dedicated to protecting animals, such as the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, target some horse sports with claims of animal cruelty. Horse racing and rodeo are most commonly targeted, due both to their high visibility and to the level of stress and potential physical dangers to the equines involved. Criticism of horse racing and its practices runs a wide gamut, however; while some may consider even fairly drastic discipline of horses non-abusive, others may consider abuse to be anything done against the will of the animal in question. Some people may consider poor living conditions abusive, while others might consider riding abusive. Some behaviors and activities are widely criticized as abusive by people within the horse industry, even if not illegal as a matter of public law, while others are so widely condemned that they have been outlawed at the federal level[where?] and violations can incur criminal penalties. In 2009, animal rights group PETA released undercover video of alleged abuses of former race horses at a slaughterhouse in Kumamoto, Japan. The group states that 20,000 horses, including former Thoroughbred race horses, were killed in 2008 in Japan for use as human and pet food. There are many dangers in horse racing for both horse and jockey: a horse can stumble and fall, or fall when jumping an obstacle, exposing both jockey and horse to the danger of being trampled and injured. Anna Waller, a member of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of North Carolina, co-authored a four-year-long study of jockey injuries and stated to the New York Times that "For every 1,000 jockeys you have riding, over 600 will have medically treated injuries." She added that almost 20% of these were serious head or neck injuries. The study reported 6,545 injuries during the years 1993–1996. More than 100 jockeys were killed in the US between 1950 and 1987. Horses also face dangers in racing. 1.5 horses die out of every 1000 starts in the US. The U.S. Jockey Club in New York estimates that about 600 horses died at racetracks in 2006. The Jockey Club in Hong Kong reported a far lower figure of .58 horses per 1000 starts. There is speculation that drugs used in horse racing in the US which are banned elsewhere are responsible for the higher death rate in the US.

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