Horse racing was banned in the Republic of China from 1945, and the People's Republic of China maintained the ban after 1949, although allowances were made for ethnic minority peoples for whom horse sports are a cultural tradition. Speed horse racing (速度赛马) was an event in the National Games of China, mainly introduced to cater for minority peoples, such as the Mongols. The race course was initially 5 km, but from 2005 (the 10th National Games) was extended to 12 km. The longer race led to deaths and injuries to participating horses in both 2005 and the 11th National Games in 2009. Also, with the entry into the sport of Han majority provinces such as Hubei, which are better funded and used Western, rather than traditional, breeding and training techniques, meant that the original purpose of the event to foster traditional horse racing for groups like the Mongols was at risk of being usurped. At the 2009 National Games, Hubei won both the gold and silver medals, with Inner Mongolia winning bronze. As a result of these factors, the event was abolished for the 12th National Games in 2013.
The eligibility of racers is checked the day before they are raced. Before the race, jockeys weigh out and report to the paddock for instructions by trainers and mount up, the identity of the horses having been checked. Horses and riders proceed to the track in a parade to the post for the stewards’ (race officials’) inspection and a brief warm-up gallop. Horses are almost universally started from electrically operated starting gates, the horses being walked or led into their stalls prior to the start of the race. The starter actuates the upward swing of the barrier from the stalls when all are in place. During the race, stewards and patrol judges are alert for racing violations, supplemented by a motion-picture patrol. The finish is photographed by a special camera, and, when the race is close, the picture is awaited before winners are announced. The race’s result does not become official until the jockeys have weighed in and the riders of horses that finished in the money are certified to have carried the proper weight. At weighing in, a jockey, owner, or trainer may claim foul against a horse that interfered with his mount. The judgment of the stewards may result in a horse being lowered in order of finish from first to last. The stewards declare the race official, and then payoffs are flashed on the totalizator. Postrace urine tests are made of winning horses and a sample of the field, and if results show the presence of forbidden substances, the results may be changed on payment of purses but not on bets.
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Animal rights organizations have long criticized horse racing. Activists have sought to expose horse doping, institute a ban on horse whipping by jockeys, limit the number of races a horse (especially three years old and younger) can run in a season, and eliminate dirt tracks in favour of safer synthetic surfaces. Two notable tragedies in the early 21st century helped propel calls for reform: the shattering of bones in one of Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro’s legs just seconds after the start of the Preakness Stakes in 2006 (the horse was euthanized eight months later) and the death of three horses during production of the TV series Luck (2011–12), a drama about horse racing. (The deaths and subsequent outcry among many viewers helped lead to the abrupt cancellation of the show after just one season.) Such events—augmented by the changing interests of the global sporting public—contributed to the continuing decline in the popularity of horse racing through the first decades of the 21st century.
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In the most prestigious races, horses are generally allocated the same weight to carry for fairness, with allowances given to younger horses and female horses running against males. These races are called conditions races and offer the biggest purses. There is another category of races called handicap races where each horse is assigned a different weight to carry based on its ability. Beside the weight they carry, horses' performance can also be influenced by position relative to the inside barrier (post position), gender, jockey, and training.