Day: October 5, 2023

A horse race is a drama of speed, elation, and dread. Whether a jockey’s whip will succeed in spurring his mount to outrun its rivals or it will cause the animal to collapse with exhaustion is often a matter of fractions of a second. In the end, the jockey’s skill and judgment are what counts. But as a sport, horse racing has not been immune to the effects of technological change. The emergence of the Information Age has brought new tools that improve racing’s safety, enhance its science, and help keep track of horses’ health and well-being. The first step is the walking ring, where bettors look at a horse’s coat in the sun to see if it’s bright and rippling with the right amount of sweat and muscled excitement. A horse that is too relaxed or tense will not run fast enough. Those who aren’t quite ready, or that have an injury, may balk—or pull up. The stewards will check that the animal is not frightened or angry and is willing to start. Eleven horses finally settled in the gate at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on a humid, rainy spring day in 2018. War of Will, the 2017 Preakness champion, had the lead. Behind him, McKinzie, a small-framed bay, and Mongolian Groom trailed. The pounding of the lower legs, especially on oval tracks, is excruciating for a horse. It strains ligaments, tendons, and joints. To reduce the pain, the jockeys wear padded boots. They also put on a heavy blue hood, which keeps the animals focused, and a shadow roll over the horse’s nose, to reduce his susceptibility to startsle from low-lying shadows on the ground. To minimize the pounding, horses run with a pacing strategy that maximizes their energy output from muscles that require oxygen, which can be in limited supply during races, and muscles that don’t need it but build up waste products that can lead to fatigue. To do this, a jockey may push a horse forward early and ration its energy over the course of a race. As a result, a jockey’s ability to coax the most out of a horse is central to betting. Most bettors place a ‘win’ bet, meaning they stake money on the winner of a race. The other two common bets are ‘place’ and ‘show,’ which offer different payouts depending on a horse’s finish. A ‘show’ bet pays for a horse to finish first, second or third while a win only pays out if the horse comes in first. A good rider can coax a horse to be competitive in both types of bets.

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