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Which Breed Of Horse Is The Fastest?

“Can your horse outrun my horse?” This is one of the most frequently asked questions in the history of sports. For thousands of years, horses and riders have been pitted against one another in contests to determine which beast can get from a starting point to a finish line the fastest. 

Which Breed Of Horse Is The Fastest?

So which breed of horse is the fastest of all? The answer is less straightforward that one might think. Several breeds have developed over the centuries that have excelled at one particular type of race, and thus may prove fastest if the conditions of the race are in their favor.

Sprinting: The American Quarter Horse

The American Quarter Horse got its name from its preferred running distance: a quarter mile. The breed is uniquely American and evolved from combining wild Mustang horses with Thoroughbred, Arabian, Morgan, and Standardbred blood. In addition to racing, Quarter Horses are used as ranch horses, rodeo horses, and are shown at halter. 

In spite of their name, Quarter Horse races can take place at distances from 220-870 yards. Most are run over dirt and on a straight course, meaning that horses and jockeys do not have to navigate turns. 

Although many records books credit the Thoroughbred filly Winning Brew as having the highest recorded speed over a quarter of a mile, with an average rate of 43 miles per hour, the American Quarter Horse has been measured as having peak rates of up to 55 miles per hour. The gelding A Long Goodbye was noted as having the fastest Quarter Horse race in history, winning the 2005 MNBA America New Mexico Challenge Championship, a 440 yard race, in 20.686 seconds. 

Middle Distances: The Thoroughbred

Thoroughbred racing is the most well-known equine sport in the world, with major Thoroughbred racing events occurring on every continent except for Antarctica. Thoroughbred races are also, as a consequence, the most financially lucrative, with the richest race in the world being the Grade I Saudi Cup, worth $20 million. 

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Thoroughbreds evolved from centuries of breeding in Europe and Asia, and each can be traced to one of three foundation sires: the Darley Arabian, the Byerly Turk, and the Godolphin Arabian. Thoroughbreds are known for their sleek, aerodynamic build and their fiery tempers, which can make training them difficult or even dangerous. The Seabiscuit race horse who won the Derby and was even an inspiration for a movie was a thoroughbred.

Most Thoroughbred races around the world are run on grass race courses, with notable exceptions being the United States, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia, which commonly race on dirt, synthetic, or sandy surfaces. Common distances range from 5/8ths of a mile to 1 ½ miles. The record for 1 ½ miles on turf was set by Twilight Eclipse, who ran it in 2:22.72 in winning the 2013 Grade II Pan American Stakes; the record for that distance on dirt was set by Secretariat, who covered it in 2:24 in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. 

Harness Races: The Standardbred

Another American equine discipline, harness racing involves a horse being attached to a small cart called a “sulky” and driven as opposed to being ridden. Instead of running at a gallop as other breeds do, Standardbreds race either at a trot (with both diagonal legs moving simultaneously), or a pace (with left fore and hind legs moving together and right fore and hind legs moving the opposite direction). 

The name from the breed, which was developed by mixing Thoroughbred blood with Morgan blood and that of other popular North American breeds, refers to a qualification or “standard” that horses had to attain prior to being admitted to the breed registry. Each Standardbred had to prove his or her ability to trot (or, later, pace) a mile in 2:30 or faster. 

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Most harness races are conducted over a mile. The fastest Standardbred harness race on record was won by pacer Always B Miki in the 2016 Allerage Farms Open Pace, in which he covered the mile in a time of 1:46. The fastest trotting race was the Allerage Farms Open Trot of 2018, won by the Canadian horse Homicide Hunter in a time of 1:48.4. 

Endurance Races: The Arabian

The Arabian is one of the oldest horse breeds on record, and as shown in this article, has contributed to the development of many other breeds of racehorse. Although, as the name suggests, the breed is most notable in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East, the influence of the Arabian is felt worldwide.

Purebred Arabians are known for their ability to carry moderate speeds over extreme distances. Endurance races, which are run at distances of up to 100 miles and are generally run over natural, varied terrain, are dominated by Arabians. 

One of the most notable endurance races held in modern times is the Tevis Cup, a 100 mile race which stretches from Truckee, California, to Auburn, California. To officially complete the race, a horse and rider must cover the 100 miles in 24 hours or less and meet a veterinarian’s standard of soundness after the race. Horses are honored not only for finishing first, but also for having the “Best Condition,” which is an award that takes race time into consideration with other factors such as the horse’s soundness and the amount of weight carried in the race. 

The fastest horse to officially finish the Tevis Cup may be the Arabian Riverwatch, who won in 2011 with Jeremy Reynolds aboard. He covered the 100 miles in about ten hours and 31 minutes. 

Author: Lindsay Griffin

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