What is Horse Racing?

horse racing

Horse racing is an extremely exciting and fast paced sport where horses run against each other in a race and compete to see who finishes the race first. Each horse is ridden by a jockey, who sits on top of them and controls how fast they should go at certain times.

Horse racing is exciting because the average race is about 0.75 to 1.5 miles long, which horses can run in a very quick time. There are some races that are much longer than that, but no matter what it is sure to be a thrilling experience. While the horses are typically the stars of the show, their jockeys, owners, trainors, and many more people involved are each praised in their own ways for the success of their horse. Horse racing is an extremely expensive sport to get into, with the average racehorse costing between $40,000 and $60,000 plus the many other expenses and fees that come with horse racing.


Horse Racing History

While horse racing thrives in the United States and Europe today, it originated in Central Asia in about 4500 BC. Throughout its history, horse racing has been one of the most popular sports in the world and has been seen in many different civilizations such as in the Greek Olympics with chariot and mounted horse racing.

Horse racing began in America when British settlers brought horses with them and began racing them on American soil. The first American racetrack was made in Long Island, New York in 1665, however, the sport did not boom until after the Civil War in 1868. For the next several decades the horse racing industry exploded with popularity and by 1890 there were 314 horse tracks across the country.

Playing Surface

Horse Racing Playing Surface

The playing surface for horse racing is known as the track. This is what the horses run on and is the shape of an oval. The majority of horse tracks are dirt, but there are also many grass tracks and some turf tracks. These three types of track are used around the world for horse racing, but dirt tracks are the most common because they are the cheapest and the easiest to clean and replace. The downside for the common dirt track is that it is not great for inclimate weather like rain, while grass and turf tracks are easier to race on in the rain. However, grass and turf tracks are much more expensive to purchase and maintain.


Horse Racing Equipment

Horse racing is a sport that requires lots of equipment. Horses and jockeys each need lots of their own equipment to wear, to control the horse, and for training.

Some essential pieces of equipment for horses are:

While there is much more equipment worn by horses, these are a few of the essential and more common ones that every horse will certainly need to race. Each serves its own important purpose and is worn somewhere on the horse’s body to either protect them (like horseshoes) or to help the jockey guide and control them (like reins and leads.) Some of the most important pieces of equipment for jockeys are:

  • Helmets
  • Whips
  • Goggles
  • Vests
  • Gloves

Most of the jockey’s equipment is made to protect themselves during their race (such as helmets, vests, and goggles.) While some of their equipment is made to help them control the horse (whips) most of that is already on the horse, so the rest of their equipment is for their own safety in case they fall off the horse or something gets into their eyes.


Horse Racing Gameplay

Horse races begin at the starting gates, which are located horizontally across the track at the chosen starting point. Horses line up in their own gates, and the doors to each open at the same time, and the race begins. Horses typically try to get off to a fast start, while also saving energy for the end of the race known as the home stretch. Horses will race as hard as they can for the length of the race, and the horse whose nose passes the finish line first is deemed the winner. Every horse race is fast-paced, and some even include jumps throughout the race, which are an extra thing for horses and jockeys to train for if they choose to compete in it.

Positions and Roles

While the two main positions in horse racing are horse and jockey, there are many significant people who work behind the scenes to get the best possible horse, and make sure they are in the best possible shape. Horse owners, trainers, and grooms are just a few of the behind the scenes people, but are arguably the most important.

Owners are the ones who purchased the horse either on their own or in a group. Owners work to provide their horse with the best opportunity to win by hiring the correct trainers, jockeys, and others to work with it, and provide the equipment for their horse.

Trainers supervise the care of their horses in the stables, and work to maximize the potential of their horses by making sure they are treated correctly and doing the correct amount of practice and recovery.

Grooms provide daily care to the horses that are assigned to them by trainers, and work to make sure the horses are healthy. Some of their duties include bandaging legs, saddling, and cleaning their stalls.

Rules and Regulations

While different kinds of races have slightly different rules, the basic rules of horse racing are all the same. Each race must start at an equal starting distance, and the first horse to have their nose pass the finish line is the winner. There are also a few things that can happen during the race that could disqualify the winner or any other horse. For example, if it is deemed that a horse broke away early from the starting gate, a “false start” will be called.

Many rules can also be enforced on the jockey to affect the race. The most common is that the riders must cross the finish line on their horse for their finish to count. So if the jockey falls off the horse, the race is over for them. Riders also must ride in a safe manner and follow each aspect of the course given to them (meaning if there are jumps they must jump over each one).

Referees and Officials

Horse Racing Referees and Officials

While horse racing officials are not seen during races like officials in many other sports are, they are still there and serve the same purposes. Horse racing officials are known as Stewards, and their purpose is to make sure each rule is followed correctly during every race. They are much less known because you only hear from them after the race if there was an infraction. This is known as a “Steward’s inquiry.” After the race, if no foul was committed, nothing will happen and the next race will carry on, but if the Stewards believe that a foul may have been made, an inquiry will be announced to the crowd. The race is not official until after the inquiry is announced, and they will either announce the necessary changes to make, or will say that there was no foul.

Lingo and Terminology

Horse Racing Lingo and Terminology

Horse racing is a sport that has lots of special lingo associated with it. Some of the top words that are specially used in horse racing are listed below:

  • Maiden: Any horse that has never won a race
  • Furlong: An eighth of a mile, used to measure distance of races (Ex: an 8 furlong race)
  • Post: Starting gate
  • Steward’s Inquiry: An investigation by the stewards that occurs after the race to see if a foul was made by a horse or jockey
  • Triple Crown: Winning the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Preakness Stakes in the same year


In horse racing, the horses themselves are coached and trained by their jockeys and trainers. They work to keep the horse in shape to make sure they can run the correct distance for their races in the best time possible. However, the most common kind of coach in horse racing is a jockey coach. While not every jockey has one, they serve important purposes such as developing their tactical skills, giving them advice on fitness and nutrition, and giving them insights on what to do in certain situations.

Skills and Techniques

Horse racing requires lots of skill and those who are successful have many different techniques ready to be used. To get your horse to run a quick time, factors like weather, training, and nutrition are all important factors, but having extra skills can push your horse over the top. A study done by researchers in London showed that some jockeys position themselves on the horse in a special way so that the horse can carry their weight without the jockey moving around too much. Techniques like this can be the difference between winning and losing a race.


Horse racing also involves lots of different strategies. The biggest strategy that is used is when to get your horse into certain speeds. For example, the jockey typically wants the horse to run its fastest while coming down the home stretch, because that is when separation needs to be made. Pacing your horse is one of the most important strategies in racing, and it is extremely important to know how fast your horse can run certain lengths so you know when to push them harder.


Most horse racing practice is done to get the horses in the best shape possible and to make sure they can run as fast as they can for as long as possible. This is mainly done through practice runs and laps around the track, but there are also some drills to improve the horses’ time. One drill that many trainers and jockeys do is start the horse with a lap at its “trot” speed, or slowest jog-type speed, and every lap increase their speed until they are running as fast as they can. This will not only help them with speed, but is a great workout for the horse as well.

Horse Racing Brands

Horse racing may not have the brand recognition that other bigger sports have, but there are many brands within the sport that are key players in the industry. Some of the popular brands such as Churchill Downs Incorporated own many of the biggest and well known tracks, while other companies such as Ridertack and other websites specialize in equipment. Horse racing is unique with equipment as there is no one true sponsor like other sports with Nike or Adidas, many jockeys and owners look for their own equipment.

  • Churchill Downs Incorporated: Racetracks
  • Ridertack: Equipment
  • JockeyTack: Equipment and apparel

Horse Racing Youth Organizations

Many horse racing youth organizations are found locally and are there to get young people into the sport, and help them grow into whatever role in horse racing they want to have. However, there are some that are known nationally and even worldwide as some of the best youth organizations, such as the American Quarter Horse Association, which has an extremely strong youth program.

  • American Quarter Horse Association: General Youth Organization (riders, trainers, etc.)
  • United States Trotting Association: Youth harness racing

Horse Racing Coaches

While horse racing does not typically have the normal understanding of a coach, many people view trainers as the closest thing to a true coach in the sport. Some jockeys have their own coaches, but many do not as they grow older. Trainers are just like coaches for the horses themselves, and below are some of the best trainers of all time.

  • Bob Baffert: American Pharoah, Justify
  • D. Wayne Lucas: Lady’s Secret, Thunder Gulch
  • Ben Jones: Citation, Whirlaway

Horse Racing Players

While there are no “players” in horse racing like in other sports, the horses themselves are the closest thing to a player, as they are the stars of the sport. Just like how people cheer on individual players in other sports, people are always cheering for the horse while they race. Below are a few of the most successful horses ever.

  • Seattle Slew: Triple Crown and 9-0 record in 1977
  • Secretariat: Triple Crown in 1973, record breaking 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes
  • Citation: Triple Crown in 1948, won 19 of 20 total races

Horse Racing Leagues

While horse racing is not exactly divided into leagues of any sort, races are often divided into age and gender groups to create a competitive balance. Each group has its own name, and they are used to separate the races to let the fans know what kinds of horses are running. Here are a few of the names and what they mean. 

  • Fillies: Female horses less than 5 years old
  • Colts: Male horses less than 5 years old
  • Mares: Female horses 5 or more years old
  • Horse: Male horses 5 or more years old

Horse Racing Teams

Horse racing is not a team sport, as the riders are racing individually and are not associated with a team of any kind. However, the closest thing to a team in the sport would be the jockey and the horse they are riding. They are together during the race, and when they work well together, special things can happen. Listed below are some of the top jockeys with their best horses.

  • Victor Espinoza: American Pharoah
  • Ron Turcotte: Secretariat
  • Eddie Arcaro: Kelso and Whirlaway

Horse Racing Events

The most famous horse racing events are the races themselves. Races like the Kentucky Derby and other triple crown races are known worldwide and are always a hit in the spring. These are the most watched events in all of horse racing, and their popularity is unmatched.

  • Kentucky Derby: Churchill Downs (Louisville, KY)
  • Preakness Stakes: Pimlico Race Course (Baltimore, MD)
  • Belmont Stakes: Belmont Park (Elmont, NY)

Horse Racing Tournaments

Horse racing does not have typical tournaments that other sports would have, but instead they have races that mean much more than others. Other than the triple crown, every other large event only consists of one big race and one winner, so the chase for the triple crown is the closest thing you will see to a tournament in horse racing.

  • Triple Crown: Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes
  • Breeders Cup World Championship: Breeders Cup

Horse Racing Books

Horse Racing Books

Horse racing has a very long and rich history, and with all that history has come many great books. Books about horses, jockeys, and every aspect of the sport have given horse racing fans enough books to read for a lifetime. Below are a few of the top horse racing books ever written.

  • The Horse God Built by Lawrence Scanlan
  • Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
  • Longshot by Dick Francis

Horse Racing Websites

Horse Racing Websites

Horse racing, just like any other sport, has many websites that you can visit for information on just about anything. There are websites for horses, races, stats, and anything else that a fan could want or need. Some of the top horse racing websites are listed below.

Horseracing.com: General info

Churchilldowns.com: Information, news, calendars, etc.

Attheraces.com: Information, results, odds, etc.


What are the types of horse racing?

There are four major types of horse racing, including: flat racing, harness racing, endurance racing, and steeplechasing. Flat racing is the most popular style of racing in the United States and relies mainly on thoroughbred horses running around a flat track as quickly as possible. The first horse to complete the race by passing the designated position on the track wins the race, unless a penalty is incurred before or during the race.

What are the 4 major horse races?

In American horse racing, there are four major horse races, three of which are widely known by many people. The three that almost everyone would know are the three triple crown races; the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. These are by far the three biggest races in the sport, but the fourth largest is the Travers Stakes held in Saratoga, NY. The Travers is not part of the triple crown, but its nickname “the midsummer derby” shows just how popular it is.

What is horse race called?

While there are many different things people call horse races, the most used names are races on the flat. This indicates a regular horse race run on a track with jockeys, while some other races are called harness races, where horses pull jockeys in a harness. Another nickname for a race is a derby.

What is horse racing?

Horse racing is a fast paced sport where horses run against each other in a race and compete to see who finishes the race first. Each horse is ridden by a jockey who controls how fast they go at certain times in the race. Horse racing is one of the older and more popular sports in the world and is fun to watch for all ages.