What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest of speed or endurance between two horses. It has evolved over centuries from a primitive contest to a multibillion-dollar global sport, but its essential feature remains the same. It may now involve massive fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and enormous sums of money, but the basic concept remains the same: a race is won by whichever horse finishes first. Despite its popularity, the horse racing industry is plagued by accusations of cruelty and neglect. For example, horses are often raced before they are fully mature, exposing them to developmental disorders. They also experience immense stress when they run at high speeds, putting them at risk of injury and even death. A growing awareness of these issues has prompted reforms and promises to continue pushing the sport further toward a sustainable future.

The most famous horse races in the world are the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France, the Preakness Stakes and Kentucky Derby in America, the Melbourne Cup in Australia, and the Caulfield Cup in New Zealand. These are among the most important and prestigious flat horse races in the world, and they each attract large crowds and millions of dollars in betting. In addition, the sport is a part of the national culture in many countries.

In medieval England, professional riders (known as jockeys) demonstrated the top speed of horses to potential buyers by racing them over short distances on open fields or roads. The jockeys rode bareback and were typically young boys who were skilled in the care of horses and knew how to ride. When dash racing (one heat) became the rule, however, a few yards gained in a race suddenly became vital to a winning outcome, and it required considerable skill and judgment on the part of the rider to coax that advantage out of his mount.

Modern horse races are a multibillion-dollar global business with the potential to reach billions of people worldwide. The sport is regulated by international organizations, including the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA). The IFHA defines the rules for horse racing and oversees the integrity of the game. Its members are horse breeders and racing officials from more than 50 countries.

In the business world, a classic succession “horse race” pits several highly-regarded candidates against one another to select the next chief executive officer. While many governance observers are critical of the approach, horse races have served as an effective method for selecting outstanding CEOs at companies such as General Electric, Procter & Gamble and GlaxoSmithKline. In some cases, it is appropriate to conduct an overt contest for the CEO role, but in other situations, a horse race is not necessary or even desirable. A company’s culture and organizational structure should be evaluated to determine whether a horse race is the best approach for choosing its next leader. If a horse race is not a good fit for a particular organization, the board and current CEO should consider alternative strategies that can produce exceptional leaders.