Skip to Content

Fastest Horse Breeds: Speed, Strength, and Racing Dominance

Last updated: January 17, 2024

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

Did you know that the fastest recorded speed of a horse was an astonishing 55 miles per hour, achieved by an American Quarter Horse? This incredible feat highlights the remarkable capabilities of these amazing animals. Drawing from my years as a racehorse owner and author of two books on horses, I’ve immersed myself in the world of equine speed and agility.

In this article, I dive into the fascinating world of the fastest horse breeds. From the legendary American Quarter Horse, the swift Thoroughbred, and the enduring Arabian, each breed brings its unique flair to the racecourse. Our exploration will compare these breeds not just in terms of their top speeds but also in how they achieve these remarkable velocities.

Are you ready to discover which breed truly stands out in the world of speed? Whether you are a horse racing enthusiast, a prospective owner, or simply curious about these fast horse breeds, this article will educate you in understanding the significance of speed in horse breeds. Let’s embark on this exhilarating journey to uncover the fastest of these equine marvels.

Picture of a Thoroughbred race at the Fairground Race Course in New Orleans.
Thoroughbred race at the Fairground Race Course in New Orleans.


  • Description: Thoroughbreds are tall, slim, and athletic horses known for their incredible speed and agility.
  • Top Speed: They can reach speeds of up to 40-45 mph.
  • Strengths: They excel in endurance and agility, making them perfect for long races.
  • Preferred Race Length: Thoroughbreds are best suited for races longer than a mile.
  • Notable Achievements: Famous Thoroughbreds like Secretariat and Man o’ War have set impressive records in prestigious races like the Kentucky Derby. Winning Brew holds a special place in the Guinness World Records as the fastest racehorse ever recorded, achieving an incredible top speed of 43.97 mph.
Picture of one of the fastest horse breeds in the world, the Quarter horse.
Picture of a quarter horse we use for barrel racing.

Quarter horse:

  • Description: Quarter horses are muscular and compact, known for their explosive speed over short distances.
  • Top Speed: They can sprint up to 55 mph.
  • Strengths: Their quick acceleration makes them ideal for short sprints.
  • Preferred Race Length: They dominate in races that are a quarter of a mile.
  • Role in Racing: Quarter horses are stars in short-distance racing due to their rapid acceleration.
  • Unique Characteristics: They are versatile, good-natured, and excel in various equestrian activities beyond racing.
Picture of an Arabian horse
Arabian Horse.


  • Description: Arabians are one of the oldest horse breeds, with a distinctive head shape and high tail carriage.
  • Top Speed: They can reach speeds up to 40 mph.
  • Strengths: Known for their stamina and endurance.
  • Preferred Race Length: They perform well in medium to long-distance races.
  • Historical Significance: Originating from the Arabian Peninsula, they have been bred for centuries for their endurance.
  • Notable Achievements: Arabians are highly prized in endurance racing and have a significant influence on other horse breeds.
Picture of standardbred horses in a harness race.
Standardbred horses in a harness race.


  • Description: Standardbreds are solid, well-built horses known for their calm disposition.
  • Top Speed: They can run up to 30-35 mph.
  • Strengths: They are best known for harness racing, where they either trot or pace.
  • Preferred Race Length: Typically, race in harness racing events, which are usually around a mile.
  • Historical Significance: Developed in North America, they are a key breed in harness racing.
  • Unique Characteristics: They are known for their ability to maintain a steady pace, either trotting or pacing.
Picture of an Akhal Teke, they are considered rare.
The Akhal Teke horse breed.

Akhal Teke:

  • Description: The Akhal Teke breed is known for its shiny, metallic-looking coat and slim build.
  • Top Speed: They can reach speeds of 35-40 mph.
  • Strengths: They are known for their endurance and speed.
  • Preferred Race Length: They excel in various race lengths, often in endurance races.
  • Historical Significance: One of the oldest and rarest horse breeds, originating from Turkmenistan.
  • Unique Characteristics: Their distinctive shiny coat and endurance make them stand out.
Picture of a Morgan mare and her foal.
A Morgan horse and her foal.


  • Description: Morgans are compact, strong, and versatile horses with expressive faces.
  • Top Speed: They can gallop at speeds of 20-30 mph.
  • Strengths: Known for their versatility, strength, and endurance.
  • Preferred Race Length: Morgans are adaptable and can perform well in various race lengths.
  • Historical Significance: One of the earliest horse breeds developed in the United States.
  • Unique Characteristics: Morgans are known for their friendly nature and are used in many equestrian disciplines.
Picture of an American Paint horse.
American Paint Horse.

American Paint Horse:

  • Description: The American Paint Horse is a unique combination of conformational athleticism and striking color patterns. They are medium-sized, muscular, and known for their amiable disposition.
  • Top Speed: American Paint Horses are swift and capable of reaching impressive speeds, particularly in short bursts.
  • Strengths: They excel in events that require both speed and agility, such as barrel racing, and are also popular in Western riding events.
  • Preferred Race Length: While not typically associated with traditional horse racing, they shine in shorter, speed-based competitions like barrel racing.
  • Unique Characteristics: Known for their distinctive coat patterns, American Paint Horses combine the athleticism of a Quarterhorse with the speed of a Thoroughbred, making them popular in various equestrian sports.
Picture of a barb horse.
Barb horse.

Barb Horse:

  • Description: The Barb Horse, with its sturdy build and resilient nature, is a breed that hails from North Africa. It is smaller than many racing breeds but is known for its hardiness.
  • Top Speed: Barbs are known for their stamina and good speed, especially over long distances.
  • Strengths: Their endurance and agility make them well-suited for long-distance and cross-country events.
  • Preferred Race Length: They excel in endurance racing, where their stamina and durability come to the forefront.
  • Historical Significance: The Barb has played a crucial role in the development of many modern horse breeds, particularly those known for racing, due to its influential genetics.
  • Unique Characteristics: The Barb is known for its ability to perform well in harsh environments, a testament to its endurance and adaptability.
Picture of my three year old Thoroughbred "Ashton."
My three-year-old Thoroughbred “Ashton”

Comparative Analysis of Horse Breeds in Racing Contexts

The following comparison table provides a concise overview of each breed’s strengths and distinctive traits, offering a clear perspective on what sets them apart in the competitive arena of horse racing.

Horse Breed Top Speed (mph) Strengths Preferred Race Length Notable Traits
Thoroughbred Up to 40-45 Endurance, Agility 1 mile+ (Long distance) Lean build, long legs
Quarter horse Up to 55 Short burst speed 1/4 mile (Short distance) Muscular, compact body
Arabian Up to 40 Stamina, Endurance Varied, often long distances Endurance, resilience
Standardbred Up to 30-35 Trotting, Pacing 1 mile (Harness racing) Strong, durable
Akhal Teke Up to 35-40 Endurance, Speed Varied, often long distances Slim build, metallic sheen
Morgan Up to 20-30 Versatility, Endurance Varied Compact, strong build
American Paint Horse Up to 40 Speed, Agility Short to medium distances Colorful coat, agile
Barb Horse Up to 30-40 Stamina, Resilience Long distances, varied terrain Hardy, influential in breeding
Picture of a Thoroughbred racehorse preparing for a race.
In this photo, I captured the Thoroughbred’s defining features: straight legs, a well-angled shoulder, and a gracefully long neck.

The Fastest Horse Breed: Thoroughbred

Born from a legacy of speed and endurance, the Thoroughbred stands out as one of the most iconic horse breeds in the world. Holding the coveted title of the “fastest” horse breed, especially over longer distances, the Thoroughbred’s reputation is intertwined with horse racing’s very history. Their distinct combination of grace, power, and agility makes them the top choice for racecourses worldwide.

Key Characteristics of the Thoroughbred:

  1. Physical Appearance: Thoroughbreds typically stand between 15.2 to 17.0 hands high. They possess a fine head, a deep chest, and long, slender legs – attributes that contribute to their exceptional speed.
  2. Temperament: Known for their agility and spirit, Thoroughbreds are also characterized by their keen senses and alertness. They’re spirited, energetic, and have a natural drive to compete.
  3. Versatility: Beyond the racetrack, Thoroughbreds excel in many equestrian disciplines due to their agility, speed, and stamina. They’re often seen in show jumping, dressage, and eventing.
  4. Endurance: While Quarter Horses might outpace them in short sprints, Thoroughbreds shine in races that test endurance. Their cardiovascular system is efficient, allowing for better oxygen delivery during longer races.

Famous Thoroughbreds and Their Notable Achievements:

  1. Secretariat: Often dubbed as one of the greatest racehorses of all time, Secretariat set records in 1973 at the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, records which still stand today.
  2. Man o’ War: Racing in the early 20th century, Man o’ War won 20 of his 21 races and is often placed in the same league as Secretariat when discussing the all-time greats.
  3. Black Caviar: An Australian Thoroughbred, Black Caviar retired undefeated in 2013 after winning 25 races, a testament to her speed and racing prowess.
  4. Frankel: Undefeated in his 14-race career, Frankel is considered one of the best Thoroughbreds of the 21st century. His victories spanned from 2010 to 2012, and he’s now a prominent sire.

Thoroughbred Speed: A World Record to Remember

According to the Guinness World Records, “Winning Brew” holds the title for the fastest horse, having achieved a remarkable speed of 43.97 mph. Impressively, she set this record at the tender age of two during a 2008 race at the Penn National Race Course.

In the realm of horse racing, the Thoroughbred reigns supreme. Their rich history, combined with their distinctive characteristics and the legends born from the breed, truly make them a marvel in the equine world. Whether on the racetrack, in equestrian competitions, or simply galloping freely, their presence commands attention and respect.

Picture of the Kentucky Derby.
Kentucky Derby

Role of Races in Determining and Showcasing Breed Speeds:

Races play an indispensable role in the world of equestrian sports. They are the platforms where the capabilities of different breeds are not only tested but also showcased to a wide audience.

These competitions determine which breeds excel in sheer speed, stamina, agility, or a combination of these traits. By setting a controlled environment where different horses compete under similar conditions, races provide a clear metric of comparison, aiding in establishing benchmarks and identifying superior genetics.

Below is a YouTube video of an Arabian competing in an endurance race.

Renowned Races Worldwide and Dominant Breeds:

  1. The Kentucky Derby (USA): Perhaps the most iconic horse race in the United States, this race is dominated by Thoroughbreds. Their balance of speed and stamina makes them ideal competitors for this prestigious event.
  2. The Dubai World Cup (UAE): Held in Dubai, this is one of the world’s richest horse races. Thoroughbreds, once again, take center stage, competing for the coveted title.
  3. Melbourne Cup (Australia): An event that stops a nation, the Melbourne Cup is a true test of endurance. While Thoroughbreds are the stars here, the race has seen competitors from various backgrounds.
  4. The Tevis Cup (USA): An arduous 100-mile endurance race, this event sees Arabian horses shine. Their unparalleled stamina and resilience make them the top contenders in such grueling competitions.
  5. Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (France): Europe’s most prestigious horse race, it attracts the best Thoroughbreds from around the world.
  6. Palio di Siena (Italy): A historic race that dates back to medieval times, this event is more about tradition than breed dominance, but it provides a vibrant backdrop to the world of horse racing.

While different horse breeds excel in various aspects of racing, competitions worldwide underscore the importance of races in determining and showcasing these distinctions. These events not only celebrate the physical prowess of these animals but also the rich history, tradition, and culture embedded in the sport of horse racing.

Below is a YouTube video about the fastest horse breeds in the world.


The allure of speed has always captivated enthusiasts in the equestrian world. While Thoroughbreds proudly hold the title as the fastest horse breed, their significance goes beyond just their swift strides. They symbolize the pinnacle of equine athleticism, blending power with grace in every gallop.

However, as we’ve journeyed through the various facets of horse racing, it’s evident that there’s so much more to these magnificent creatures than just their speed. Each breed, from the agile Quarter Horse to the enduring Arabian, brings its unique charm and strengths to the racetrack.

The beauty of the equestrian world lies in this rich tapestry of breeds, each contributing to the diverse and vibrant panorama of horse racing. So, while we celebrate the swiftness of the Thoroughbred, let’s also delve deeper, exploring and appreciating the myriad qualities that all horse breeds offer.

After all, in the grand tapestry of equestrian sports, every thread—no matter its speed—adds to the splendor of the whole.

Picture of a Thoroughbred horse race on a turf course at Churchill Downs.
I took this photo at Churchhill Downs. It’s a mile turf race for three year old Thoroughbreds

Additional Resources

For those who wish to delve deeper into the world of horse breeds and their remarkable capabilities, the following resources offer a wealth of information:

  1. Breed-Specific Information:

These resources provide a deeper understanding of the various aspects that contribute to the speed and performance of horse breeds, enhancing your knowledge and appreciation of these magnificent animals.

Here is a bar chart comparing the top speeds of various horse breeds.


Can Any Breed Be Trained for Racing?

While any horse breed can undergo training, certain breeds are better suited for specific racing disciplines. Breeds like Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses are bred for racing, making them more naturally inclined. However, with proper training, dedication, and care, many breeds can compete successfully.

How do Thoroughbreds differ from Quarter Horses in racing?

Thoroughbreds are bred for endurance and speed over longer distances, unlike Quarter Horses, which excel in short sprints.

What Makes a Horse Breed the Fastest?

The speed of a horse breed is influenced by a combination of factors, including genetics, training, conformation, and care. Some breeds are naturally predisposed to speed due to their lineage, while training and care play crucial roles in optimizing their racing potential.

Can American Paint Horses compete in traditional horse races?

Yes, While not common in traditional racing, the American Paint Horse Association does have sanctioned races at some racetracks. They typically race the same distances as quarter horses.

What makes Quarter Horses ideal for barrel racing?

Quarter Horses excel in barrel racing due to their agility, quick acceleration, and ability to make sharp turns efficiently.

Picture of a thoroughbred stallion.
Picture of a Thoroughbred stallion I have in training.

From Farm to Racetrack: My Journey with Fast Horse Breeds

My journey with horses began on our family farm. Here, Quarter Horses were not just farm animals; they were integral to our daily work. Their roles included:

  • Herding Cattle: Their agility and responsiveness were perfect for managing cattle.
  • Barrel Racing: My first foray into racing was with these versatile horses. Their quick acceleration and sharp maneuvering made every race thrilling.

This early exposure to Quarter Horses laid the foundation for my racing career. It was with them that I first appreciated the nuances of speed and control in racing.

Transition to Thoroughbreds:

  • Moving to Thoroughbred racing opened a new realm where endurance and sustained speed over longer distances were crucial.

American Paint Horse:

  • I also owned an American Paint Horse, mainly used for barrel racing. Known for its distinctive coat, this breed’s agility made it a formidable competitor in the arena.

Observing Arabians:

  • My experience with Arabians is more observational. I’ve seen their endurance and adaptability in various competitions, including racing and polo.

Learning from Other Breeds:

  • While I haven’t owned breeds like Standardbreds, Akhal Tekes, or Morgans, I’ve learned about them through observation and discussions with other horse enthusiasts.

Reflecting on the Journey:

  • Looking back on my journey, from the dependable Quarter Horse to the enduring Thoroughbred and the versatile American Paint Horse, it’s been a path filled with learning and hands-on experiences. Each breed has imparted valuable lessons, deepening my understanding of their unique qualities in the world of horse racing.