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A match race is a race between two competitors, going head-to-head.

The term may be best known as a regatta for two sailing boats racing around a course. It is differentiated from a fleet race, which almost always involves three or more competitors, by slight variations in the rules and large variations in tactics.

It has also been adopted for horse racing as a race in which only two entrants compete. IMRA, the International Match Race Association, was created in 2009 to enable anyone to enter a one-on-one horse race in all-terrain half-mile loops.

Match Race Tactics - Sailing

With a large enough fleet, the winning boat will generally be the one that finds the fastest possible way around the course. In contrast, match racers will concentrate on just crossing the line before their opponent. Two tactics that arise from this mind-set are tight coverage and drawing fouls. Another discipline in sailing is team racing (two teams battling each other).

By tight coverage, the lead boat will attempt to stay as close as possible to its opponent while staying in front. For example, if on a downwind leg the losing boat gybes towards the right side of the course the winning boat will gybe towards the right side of the course as well even though the left side of the course appears to be favored. That way the winning boat is insured against losing the lead due to a wind shift that favors the right side of the course. In fleet racing there will often be boats on both sides of the course, requiring the lead boat to sail on the side that it considers to be fastest.

Drawing fouls is also an important part of match racing. As fouls in sailboat racing penalize the offending boat but do not advantage the fouled boat, drawing a foul in fleet racing is almost always a net loss. However when there are only two boats on the course any penalty for one boat is an advantage for the other. Therefore in match racing a boat will often try to put itself in a position where the other boat will have no option but to foul it or make a disadvantageous change in course, even at the cost of sailing a slower course itself.

On occasion, one boat in a fleet race may only care about her performance relative to one other boat in the fleet. For example, near the end of a long series, two boats may be so far ahead of the rest of the fleet in the standings, that no other boats are capable of catching them. Thus, Boat A will win the series as long as they place better than Boat B in the last race, regardless of whether they come in first and second or ninth and tenth. Boat A may then employ match racing tactics against Boat B, even though they are racing under fleet racing rules.

Most match racing is between one-design boats, meaning that ideally the boats should perform identically on all points of sail and that any differences in performance are attributable to the crew. The most notable match race is the America's Cup which was until recently sailed by boats of the International America's Cup Class, which is a formula class. The design of America's Cup Class boats is controlled by a complex formula which allows designers a fair bit of room to optimize for different expected conditions. This has resulted in boats that do not perform identically on all points of sail, which opens up another match racing tactic of forcing the opponent onto an unfavored point of sail. During the 2003 America's Cup Challenger Series between Oracle BMW Racing and Alinghi, for example, the Alinghi boat was heavier but more powerful and favored on higher points of sail downwind. Alinghi used the tactic of getting to leeward of Oracle on a downwind leg and forcing her up onto a course where Alinghi was comparatively faster, although Alinghi herself would have gotten to the finish line quicker on a lower course.

Other notable match racing events in sailing include the Canada's Cup and the Richardson Trophy, both held on the Great Lakes. The Richardson Trophy is governed and sponsored by the Yacht Racing Union of the Great Lakes. YRUGL [1] claims that the Richardson is the second oldest continuosly match raced event in the world. It is second only to the America's Cup and it will hold the 70th competition later this year.

A new event for Sailing at the 2012 Summer Olympics is Women’s Keelboat Match Racing, using the Elliott 6m.

Match Race - Horse Racing

Famous match races include the 1878 four mile long race in Louisville between the Eastern U.S. colt Ten Broeck and California filly Mollie McCarty that inspired the song Molly and Tenbrooks, the Canadian contest between Man o' War and Sir Barton in 1920, won by Man O'War; Seabiscuit's victory over War Admiral in the 1938 Pimlico Special; the 1955 race between Nashua and Swaps, the 1966 Pace of the Century between standardbred champs Bret Hanover and Cardigan Bay, and 1975's tragedy-marred contest between colt Foolish Pleasure and filly Ruffian at Belmont Park. Ruffian broke down in the backstretch and was euthanized; her remains are buried in the Belmont Park infield.

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