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Male vs Female Racehorses Speed: Are Males Really Faster?

Last updated: March 26, 2024

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

As a long-time racehorse owner, I’ve observed firsthand the heated debates about whether male racehorses are faster than female horses. However, the answer isn’t as straightforward as one might think.

Male horses often receive more attention in the racing world. Yet, female horses have consistently demonstrated that they can compete at the same level. In some cases, they even outperform their male counterparts.

For instance, during a recent visit to the Fairgrounds racetrack, I witnessed a mare setting a new track record. She surpassed the times of both male and female horses. Her performance is testament to the fact that speed and stamina in horse racing are influenced by many factors. Gender is not the definitive predictor of racing success.

mare regret
In 1915, Regret was the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby.

Exploring Speed Differences Between Male and Female Racehorses

The perception that male racehorses are inherently faster stems from physical differences, including muscle mass and hormonal influences. However, racing is a sport where mental fortitude, training, and strategy play significant roles, often leveling the playing field between genders.

What the Research Shows

Reflecting on a study I came across during my journey as a racehorse owner, it’s clear that the attributes contributing to a racehorse’s performance transcend gender. This aligns with what I’ve witnessed at the tracks, where the heart and spirit of the horse often tell a more compelling story than gender alone.

For example, research published in the FASEB Journal found no significant sex-based difference in elite performance among thoroughbred horses, suggesting that physiological traits influencing athletic performance transcend gender boundaries.

Additionally, historical race data from events like the Triple Crown races reveal that female racehorses have competed at the highest levels and emerged victorious against their male counterparts.

Picture of Zenyatta at the 2009 Breeders Cup By Lisa Andres, USA, CC BY 2.0.
Zenyatta at the 2009 Breeders Cup By Lisa Andres, USA, CC BY 2.0

Historical Evidence of Female Racehorse Speed

From my years in the racing world, I’ve marveled at female racehorses like Zenyatta, Ruffian, and Winx, whose exceptional speed and endurance have challenged and changed many of my own perceptions about gender in racing.

These mares have competed against and beaten top male racehorses, challenging the notion of male superiority in racing speed. Here is a closer look at two outstanding female racehorses:

  1. Ruffian (1972-1975): Known for her speed and spirit, Ruffian was an undefeated filly until her tragic final race. She won 10 consecutive races, often by wide margins, and set new stakes records in eight of them, showcasing the prowess of female racehorses.
  2. Zenyatta (2004-): With a career marked by 19 wins out of 20 starts, Zenyatta became a fan favorite for her dramatic come-from-behind victories. Her win in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic against a field of males highlighted her exceptional racing ability and charisma.
Picture of a horse race of fillies and mares.
A horse race for fillies and mares.

Factors Influencing Performance

Several factors play a role in determining a racehorse’s performance, including:

  1. Training and Conditioning: In my experience training both male and female racehorses, I’ve learned that while their care needs might differ slightly, dedication to their training and conditioning is what truly unlocks their potential.
  2. Breeding: Genetic factors significantly contribute to a horse’s racing capabilities.
  3. Race Conditions: Variables such as distance, track surface, and weather can influence race outcomes.
  4. Jockey Strategy: A skilled jockey can make a decisive difference in a horse’s performance.
Picture of my female yearling.
My female yearling “Aunt Addie.”

Debunking Myths

The world of horse racing is filled with myths that often skew perceptions of male and female racehorse capabilities. Let’s clarify some of the most widespread myths:

  • Myth: Male racehorses are always faster than females.
    • Reality: Speed in racehorses is influenced by many factors beyond gender, such as breeding, training, and individual physiology. Historical performances by female racehorses, including Zenyatta’s 19-race winning streak, demonstrate that females can match or surpass males in speed.
  • Myth: Female racehorses lack the resilience of males.
  • Myth: Stallions are more competitive due to their aggression, making them superior racehorses.
    • Reality: While stallions may show natural aggression, competitiveness in racing is not solely a male trait. Mares and fillies often display a strong competitive spirit, and success on the track is determined by training, temperament, and innate abilities rather than aggression.

Here is a YouTube video showing Winx’s dominance in horseracing

YouTube video
Video about the great female racehorse Winx.
Picture of my two year old filly in training.  Gender in horse racing doesn't affect her training.
My filly on a walking wheel after training.


Has a female horse ever won the Kentucky Derby?

Yes, three female horses won the Kentucky Derby. The most recent was Winning Colors in 1988. Genuine Risk won it in 1980, and Regret was the first female Kentucky Derby winner; she performed her feat in 1915. Check out this article: What Horses Won the Triple Crown? Meet 13 Great Champions

Is there a speed difference between male and female racehorses?

Generally speaking, male horses are faster, taller, and stronger than their female counterparts. They also outnumber female horses on the racetrack and hold almost every relevant speed record. However, some outliers can run faster than the males, like the ones mentioned in this article.

What exactly determines a racehorse’s speed?

Speed in racehorses is influenced by a combination of factors, including genetics, training, conditioning, and the horse’s mental state. While physical attributes such as muscle mass and cardiovascular efficiency play crucial roles, the horse’s willingness to run and its relationship with the jockey are also significant.

Have female racehorses ever won major races against males?

Yes, female racehorses have won major races against male competitors. Notable examples include Winning Colors, Genuine Risk, and Regret, all of whom won the Kentucky Derby, one of the most prestigious races in the United States.

Are there any differences in how male and female racehorses are trained?

The core principles of training racehorses are similar regardless of gender. However, trainers may adjust their approaches based on the individual horse’s temperament, physicality, and health needs, which can sometimes correlate with gender. For example, managing a mare’s estrous cycle or a stallion’s aggressive tendencies might require specific considerations.

How are racehorses’ performances tracked and analyzed?

Racehorses’ performances are tracked through official race times, distances, and conditions, as well as through individual horse tracking technologies during training. Data analysis can include evaluating split times, stride length, and recovery rates to assess a horse’s capabilities and potential.

Why do male racehorses typically have higher breeding fees than females?

Stud fees for male racehorses are often higher due to the potential for siring multiple offspring each breeding season, which can significantly influence the genetics of future racing generations. Female racehorses, limited by their gestation period and the number of offspring they can produce.

Picture of an open turf race where male vs female racehorses are competing.
Open turf race that includes both genders.

Conclusion: Male vs Female Racehorses Speed

The debate over whether male racehorses are faster than female horses highlights the complexity of equine performance. While gender may play a role in certain physical attributes, a racehorse’s success is ultimately determined by a combination of factors, including training, genetics, and individual ability.

The ongoing evolution of the horse racing industry highlights that the speed of male vs. female racehorses is not a clear-cut distinction, with both genders capable of remarkable achievements. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have you had experiences with male or female racehorses that defy traditional expectations? Share your stories in the comments below.