What is a Horse Race?

What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest in which a team of jockeys or drivers pulls a team of horses along a set course to win a prize. Horse races originated in the 12th century when English knights returned from the Crusades with swift Arab horses that could be bred to English mares to produce fast runners. The nobility would place private wagers on these matches, and they eventually evolved into public events where the winner received a purse. During the early years, these matches were recorded by disinterested third parties who became known as keepers of the match book.

As horse racing has grown into a global industry, the sport’s culture has changed dramatically. The sport is now largely governed by commercial interests, which rely heavily on gamblers to support the operations and pay for their lavish entertainment. This has led to a number of controversial practices that have tainted the image of horse racing in many eyes, including doping, cruelty and animal abuse.

There are essentially three types of people involved in horse racing: the crooks who dangerously drug their horses and countenance such conduct from their agents; the dupes who labor under the fantasy that the sport is broadly fair and honest; and the masses in the middle who are neither naive nor cheaters but honorable souls who know the industry is more crooked than it ought to be and still don’t do all they can to fix it. It is this mass of people in the middle that must be compelled to take up the cause of reform if the sport is ever to live up to its reputation.

The prevailing narrative of horse racing sells a story of gritty, noble rivalry between a group of young horses locked in a desperate struggle for glory. But this is a human construct: trophies, money and adulation are abstractions to horses, who are prey animals that want nothing more than to survive. While a horse may enjoy moving fast, winning is not what they are trying to do.

While some executives and governance observers are uncomfortable with the idea of an overt leadership horse race, where several recognized candidates compete to become a company’s next CEO, others believe that it is essential for a top company to have the ability to hire a strong leader from its own ranks. This approach, proponents say, shows that the board and current CEO have faith in their management and their company’s leadership development processes. In addition, it can provide motivation to employees throughout the organization who are able to see their own path to the top job. This article was updated on Oct. 23, 2023.