The Romance of a Horse Race in Siena, Italy

horse race

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Before the race, Siena’s central square, Piazza del Campo, is transformed beyond recognition, packed with a gritty mixture of clay and dirt to create a track for the horses, and dotted with bleachers for the thousands of fans who will be watching the event. Lively restaurants and cafes close to allow the race to take place.

Spectators wear their finest outfits and sip mint juleps while betting on the outcome of the race, cheering for a horse by its number or name. Some people like to root for a horse that has been a favorite of theirs since childhood. Others are captivated by the beauty of a particular horse or its powerful strides and hypnotic motion. Seabiscuit, for instance, was an instant fan favorite who captivated bettors with his dazzling speed and power.

While the spectacle of the race draws crowds, behind the romance of horse racing lies a world of injuries, drug abuse and gruesome breakdowns. During the race, the horses sprint—often under the threat of whips or illegal electric-shocking devices—at speeds that often cause them to bleed from their lungs (a condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage).

To ensure that they can run as fast as possible, thoroughbreds are given cocktails of legal and illegal drugs designed to mask injuries, reduce pain and improve performance. These include painkillers, sedatives, antipsychotics and steroids. Many runners also ingest insulin, which increases blood sugar to fuel their races.

The race is usually supervised by a team of patrol judges and stewards who monitor the action from different vantage points around the course. The patrol judges are responsible for evaluating a horse’s performance in the race and identifying any fouls committed by horses or riders. The stewards are responsible for investigating and penalizing any serious violations.

A jockey, or rider, is a person who sits on a horse during a race and steers the animal through turns and jumps while urging it with the use of a whip. The jockey also has a hand on the horse’s neck that he or she can use to discourage the animal from slowing down during the race. A jockey who doesn’t use the whip is referred to as “hand-riding.” Other riding techniques include a hand-and-a-half and a hand-and-ankle. A heavy track refers to a racing surface that has received an unusually large amount of water and is often slippery. The long and short pastern bones of a horse are the two long bones that extend from its fetlock joint to its hoof. The short pastern bone is commonly known as a splint bone.

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