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Horse racing is an equestrian sporting activity which has been practiced over the centuries; the chariot races of Roman times were an early example, as was the contest of the steeds of the god Odin and the giant Hrungnir in Norse mythology. It is often inextricably associated with the activity of wagering on the outcome of a race, gambling.
The principal form of horseracing, which is popular in many parts of the world, is thoroughbred racing. Harness racing is somewhat popular in the United States, Canada, Australia, France, Italy and Scandinavia, and to a lesser extent elsewhere. Quarter horse racing is also popular in the United States.
The breeding, training and racing of horses in many countries is now a significant economic activity as, to a greater extent, is the gambling industry which is largely supported by it. Exceptional horses can win millions of dollars and make millions more by providing stud services, such as horse breeding.
The style of racing, the distances and the type of events varies very much by the country in which the race is occurring, and many countries offer different types of horse races.
In the United Kingdom for example, there are races which involve obstacles (either hurdles or fences) called National Hunt racing and those which are unobstructed races over a given distance (flat racing). The UK has provided many of the sport's greatest ever jockeys, most notably Gordon Richards. See also United Kingdom horse-racing.
In the United States, races can occur on flat surfaces of either dirt or grass, generally thoroughbred racing; other tracks offer quarterhorse racing and harness racing, or combinations of these three types of racing. Racing with other breeds, such as Arabian horse racing, is found on a limited basis. American thoroughbred races are run at a wide variety of distances, most commonly from 4.5 furlongs (905 m) to 1� miles (2414 m); with this in mind, breeders of thoroughbred race horses are able to breed horses to excel at a particular distance (see Dosage Index).
The high point of US horse racing has traditionally been the Kentucky Derby which, together with the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, form the Triple Crown for three-year-olds. However, in recent years the Breeders' Cup races, held at the end of the year, have been challenging the Triple Crown events, held early in the year, as determiners of the three-year-old champion. They also have an important effect on the selection of other annual champions.
The corresponding standardbred event is the Breeders' Crown. There are also a Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Pacers and a Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Trotters.
American betting on horse racing is sanctioned and regulated by state governments, almost always through legalized parimutuel gambling.
Thoroughbred horse racing in the United States has its own Hall of Fame for horses, jockeys, and trainers.
While the attention of horseracing fans and the media is focused almost exclusively on the horse's performance on the racetrack or for male horses or possibly its success as a sire, but little publicity is given the brood mares. Such is the case of La Troienne, one of the most important mares of the 20th century to whom many of the greatest thoroughbred champions, and dams of champions can be traced.
In Australia the most famous horse is Phar Lap. However, this horse is from New Zealand, as was Cardigan Bay, a pacing horse who enjoyed great success at the highest levels of American harness racing in the 1960s. Racing in Australasia has enjoyed great success with races such as the Melbourne Cup, which has recently been attracting many international entries.
The most famous horses from Canada are Northern Dancer, who after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness went on to become the most successful Thoroughbred sire ever, and his son Nijinsky II. In Canada, however, harness racing is more popular than Thoroughbred racing. Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, home of the Queen's Plate, Canada's premier thoroughbred stakes race, and the North America Cup, Canada's premier standardbred stakes race, is the only race track in North America which stages Thoroughbred and Standardbred (harness) meetings on the same day. The North America Cup has the largest purse of any Canadian horse race.
In Ireland, noted for its great racing history, the Derby winning Thoroughbred race horse Shergar was kidnapped on February 8, 1983. He has never been found.
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