There are 112 thoroughbred and harness racing tracks in the United States, with several of the most prominent courses being designated as historical sites. The number of active tracks varies from year to year as some shut down or change operators.
Harness racing has only been held at Kentucky's Churchill Downs since 1975, but it was not the first time the state had hosted both types of races. In fact, they have always been held concurrently at all Kentucky tracks except for Turfway Park in Florence, which opened in 1936 and is the only track built specifically for turf racing. The first annual Kentucky Derby Festival was held in 1972 at Louisville/Jefferson County International Airport's then-newly constructed Terminal C. The festival has been held annually ever since on the first weekend in May at various locations across the city.
Thoroughbred racing used to be held at more tracks than harness racing, but over time the two types of races became dominated by their respective states' circuits. Today, only Kentucky and Indiana host both thoroughbred and harness races simultaneously.
The United States has one of the largest numbers of race tracks in the world despite having a relatively small population. This is due to the lucrative nature of race betting and the ability of owners to make money even when races are losing money overall.
Only 25 racetracks in America provide statistics on horse fatalities, and Hawthorne Race Course in Illinois and Churchill Downs in Kentucky were the leaders in fatalities, according to the Jockey Club's Equine Injury Database. Overall, there have been more than 300 reported injuries at the tracks this year -- a number that includes cases where horses lost legs or suffered other severe injuries but were still able to race.
To put these numbers in perspective, it is important to know that there are about 150,000 horses racing across America today. So, even if only one out of every 100 races results in an injury requiring euthanasia, that would mean the death of about 1,500 horses per year. This means that horse racing is safer than many people think: The risk of dying in a race is less than that of being hit by lightning or falling down a flight of stairs.
The leading cause of death at all-aged tracks is traffic accidents, which account for 35 percent of fatalities. Excessive speed is believed to be the main factor behind these accidents. Other common causes include falls (24 percent), animal attacks (6 percent), and unknown factors (5 percent).
Hawthorne had the highest percentage of fatal accidents among all-aged tracks (21 percent). The lowest percentage was at Santa Anita Park (7 percent).
Whatever the case may be, these eight speedway tracks provide something for everyone and have been named the top race tracks in America.
With the exception of Secretariat's still-mind-boggling Belmont Stakes performance of 2:24 and Time to Explode's record-equaling time at seven furlongs, the current American dirt record holders from six furlongs to one and a half miles have one thing in common. They are both owned by King Ranch near El Paso, Texas.
Secretariat is the greatest racehorse of all time and no one can take his record away from him. But according to author Eric Nissley, who has written several books on racing including "Horsepower: A History of the American Automobile," he did not always hold this ranker. Before Secretariat came along, there was a racehorse named Seattle Slew who held the all-time American dirt record until the late 1970's. At the time of his death in 1982 at the age of twenty-one, Seattle Slew had won eleven races and was being prepared for his next start when he suffered a heart attack during exercise testing. He was given the last rites but died before any priest could administer the final sacraments.
After Seattle Slew's death, no one dared to even try to break the record. It was too dangerous with horses that fast and heavy-footed. But in 1987, nineteen years after Seattle Slew died, a horse named Native Dancer became the first horse to ever go over one mile an hour on dirt.
Texas leads the way with 978,822 horses, followed by California with 698,345, Florida with 500,124, Oklahoma with 326,134, Kentucky with 320,173, Ohio with 306,898 and Missouri with 281,255, according to the AHC study.
Horse farms are a common site in the United States. There are also many horse races held throughout the year at various locations across the country. Texas holds the majority of these races with 2,914 held in 2001. Of all the states that hold races, only Mississippi had more horses than Texas working on race tracks at the time of the survey.
There is a large Hispanic population in Texas who have been involved in horse farming for generations. Over 75% of all horse farmers in the state are Hispanic. They tend to farm smaller parcels of land than other farmers but they keep more horses than other farmers. In fact, Hispanic horse farmers have twice as many horses as white non-Hispanic farmers.
The reason why Texas has so many horses is due to its size. There are about 5 million people living in Texas which is less than one-third of California's population. However, Texas has over 4 million acres of farmland which is more than double that of California. This shows that Texas needs more horses to support its agricultural industry.