Horse racing has evolved over centuries from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses into a modern spectacle involving thousands of runners and enormous sums of money, but the essential concept remains unchanged. The first horse to have its nose over the finish line is declared the winner. This basic rule applies to all kinds of horse races, from the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes in America to the Royal Ascot Racecourse in England. The rules vary somewhat between different types of races, but the overall rules are the same.
A horse race is a competition in which a horse is ridden by a jockey and competes to be the first to cross the finish line at a specific point called the “post,” or starting gate. The horse must also follow the course as prescribed, including jumping any hurdles if they are present. Once the race has been completed, a certain amount of prize money is awarded to the top three finishers.
The main type of horse race is the handicap race, in which the weights that a competitor must carry are adjusted according to age (a two-year-old has less to carry than a five-year-old) and sex (females carry more than males), as well as other factors like past performance. Many horse breeders attempt to develop horses that have the potential for winning races by putting them through rigorous training and conditioning regimens.
Because horse racing is such a dangerous sport, it is not uncommon for horses to suffer from injuries that can ruin their career. These can range from simple lacerations to catastrophic injuries such as fractures of the bones of the legs and spine. Some injuries are even fatal. Despite the risks, the sport continues to thrive and is very popular in several countries.
In addition to the aforementioned injuries, horses are often subjected to cocktails of legal and illegal drugs designed to mask the pain of injury and enhance their performance. Many of these drugs cause a condition known as exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, or bleeding in the lungs. Many horse owners will use a drug known as Lasix or Salix to decrease the bleeding in their horses.
A new study by EHESS mathematician Anne Aftalion and Quentin Mercier shows how a computer model could help trainers create customized racing strategies for their horses. Their model calculates how to best maximize the power output of muscles that rely on aerobic pathways, which require oxygen, and anaerobic ones, which do not require oxygen but build up waste products that cause fatigue. The model might surprise jockeys who hold their horses back to conserve energy, because it shows that this can actually reduce a horse’s finishing strength. The team’s findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.