How horse racing came to be, what drives horses, and what kinds of competitions exist.
Horse racing as we know it appeared in England in the 18th century under Queen Anne. At that time the thoroughbred horse breed was just emerging, and local half-breeds competed with each other.
Today, the English thoroughbred is the fastest breed in the world. Their agility is so high that they are not allowed in competitions with other breeds – too big a difference. Who else can reach speeds of up to 70 km/h? This is also the most expensive breed. If a common, average thoroughbred foal can be bought for 100 thousand rubles, then with good parents and ancestors, a grown horse with victories behind him can be very expensive. Today, the most expensive horse in the world, Frankel, was bought for 200 million dollars. He has had 14 victories in top races, has never lost, and is now resting in well-deserved retirement.
With horses it’s clear, but what kind of people are involved in racing?
A horse’s partner is its jockey, its rider. Not the rider – those involved in racing (competition trot, another allure). Although people, far from the equestrian sport do not pay attention to such subtleties, but to equestrians this difference is quite important. The role of a jockey is not just to make the horse gallop faster and faster and wave the whip at the finish. He has to help keep the balance in the turns, save his strength in the first part of the track to have enough for the final spurt, and there, on the contrary, to encourage him to squeeze himself to the end.
A young horse can accelerate like a rocket at the start, in excitement, heated by competitors, and at the end it calms down: nobody irritates anymore, tension subsides and it seems there is no need to rush anywhere, and the rider just teaches and tells the horse how it should behave.
There were cases when the jockey jumped out of the saddle and the horse which had been trained to gallop to the finish did it and, it happened to come first. But more often the animals just quit the course, not interested in the further race.
A horse undergoes its own training at the stud farm, under the guidance of a trainer. He determines the level, form, and degree of training of a horse, how much and when a horse has to work on the track. The everyday routine for the jockeys also takes place here – they pass both the horses they have to perform on in the nearest future, and those who are just starting to get their conditions. The trainer decides in what competitions his charges will participate. He needs to consider not only the horse’s chances of winning, but also its need for practice, competitive experience, and its form. Just like humans, a horse should not be allowed to compete every day or even every week. After a race he has a period of light training to both rest and not lose his tone.
The owner of a racehorse, which can be one person or a group of people, or even a legal entity, takes almost no part in its life. Often his participation is limited to stroking the horse at races, and periodic visits to the stable to assess the situation. The trainers don’t like it too much, because the owners are usually far from the equestrian subtleties. They breed a horse for the sake of the status (“my horse won the first place the other day”), for the sake of new connections at the racetrack (because you can meet there officials and owners of big companies and even presidents), for the prize money. For the love of horses, which is as rare as the owner riding his prize horse himself.
How do the competitions take place?
The races take place at the racetracks. Typically, the grounds are in the form of a circle or oval, but in England there are other options – unclosed lines in the form of the letters U or L. The finish line is always laid exactly opposite the stands, and the start, depending on the length of the course, can be in the same place or on the opposite side of the track.
For the start of the race both a conventional line, on which the participants are lined up, and the starting gate – a structure that is the width of the track with hinged boxes for each horse – are used. Thus, before the start everyone is in the conditional cages, which excludes false starts and fights between animals (which happens, horses get nervous too, get hot and can “put someone in his place”). At the signal all the gate doors open and the race begins.
The finish line is rarely a ribbon, more often it is the same conventional line from the finishing post beyond the edge of the track. The winner is the horse whose head was the first to cross that line. And since it is not always possible to determine the position of the participants by eye, a photo finish is used.