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The 7 Fastest Horse Breeds in the World & the Races They Run

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We recently went to the Fairgrounds race track to watch some horse races. On this day, both Thoroughbred and Quarter were running but not against each other. Keeping the breeds separate made me wonder what horse breed is the fastest, so I researched horse breeds that race and their speeds.

The worlds’ fastest horse breeds are Quarterhorse, Thoroughbred, Arabian, American Paint horse, Akhal Teke, Appaloosa, and Standardbred. The fastest horses at a short distance are Quarter horses, but Thoroughbreds are faster running longer distances.

Horses race a wide range of distances, obstacles, and surfaces, and because of this, different breeds excel in various types of races. But the length of the race typically determines which horse breed does the best.

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This article is part of my series focused on horse breeds-I started by writing an introductory piece: Horse Breeds: The Ultimate Guide. The “Guide” is a comprehensive overview of different breeds and types of horses.

What are the fastest horse breeds?

Formalized horse racing originated with the ancient Greek chariot races. The exciting competition gained popularity and evolved into various horse racing contests. Horse breeds with distinct skill sets are used in multiple types of races.

It’s difficult to determine the fastest horse breed without context. A better question would be what is the fastest horse breed in a quarter-mile race, or one-mile race, or a 100-mile race. The style of racing, the distances, and the type of events vary by breed.

1. American Quarter horse

Quarterhorses own the record for the fastest horse at any distance. They’ve been clocked running 55mph, and this is faster than any other breed.

Quarter horse racing originated in colonial America over 200 years ago. The breed got its name for the distance they typically raced, a quarter of a mile. The Colonial quarter horse owners bred their animals for speed, first and foremost.

Picture of a quarter horse.

Sanctioned Quarter horse racing started soon after the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) was formed. Quarterhorses race 11 distances, from 220 yards to 870 yards. The most illustrious quarterhorse race is The All-American Futurity, which has a purse of 3 million dollars.

Quarterhorses in barrel racing

Competitive barrel racing requires a fast and athletic horse. Quarterhorses dominate the sport. They have a compact, muscular body that is necessary to get around a barrel quickly and explode to the next barrel.

Quarterhorses are a versatile athletic horse breed that competes in many equine activities. To learn more about the Quarterhorse breed, visit the American Quarterhorse Association website here.

2. Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbreds dominate the horse racing industry and are the fastest horse breed in the world in races over 6 furlongs. The Triple Crown is the best-known horse race and can only be entered by Thoroughbreds.

The British Isles were introduced to horse racing by the Romans during their quest to dominate the world. The sport floundered until three sires of Arabian blood were crossed with local mares and produced the Thoroughbred horse breed.

Picture of a Thoroughbred stallion.

All Thoroughbreds can trace their bloodlines to one of these three sires; they were the Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Barb.

Thoroughbreds are typically run in races close to a mile long and have to pace themselves over the course. They have long legs with a lean muscular body built for distance running, similar to Arabians.

Thoroughbreds world record

The Guinness Book of Records considers Winning Brew as the fastest Thoroughbred, and her speed is listed at 43.97 mph. She was just two years old when she set the record in 2008 at Penn National Race Course.

The average rate of the Kentucky Derby winner is about 37 mph. Secretariat’s speed in the Derby was 38 mph. To read more about horse racing records, you can click here.

3. Arabian horses

The Arabian horse was selectively bred for warfare in the Arabian peninsula. The horses had to be hardy enough to survive desert conditions and have the speed to outrun its foe.

European breeders cross-bred Arabian stallions with their local mares to increase the breeds’ speed and endurance. One breed that resulted from the crossbreeding is the Thoroughbred.

Picture of an Arabian horse.

The characteristics bred into the ancient Arabian make it a perfect horse for competitive horse racing. Modern Arabian racing is gaining popularity in the United States.

Arabians excel in endurance racing

Arabians are legendary for their endurance, not speed; however, they have been clocked at 40mph. Arabians can’t compete with the speed of a Quarterhorse or Thoroughbred but dominate endurance racing.

One day endurance races vary in distance from 50 to 100 miles and have strict fitness compliance regulations. Competitions over 100 miles are typically multiday races.

Horses have checkpoints throughout the race to monitor the horse’s fitness. Only horses, the examing vet determines are physically fit can continue the race, unsound horses are withdrawn.

Long term physical exertion can result in permanent muscle damage. Click here to read a study on the effects of prolonged exercise on horses that compete in endurance races.

The Tevis Cup is considered a top endurance races. The course covers a 100-mile and lasts 24 hours and goes through the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. Arabians are the most common horse breed in the race. To learn more about endurance racing visit the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) website.

To learn more about Arabian flat track racing you can visit the website for the Arabian Jockey Club. They have information for locations and dates on upcoming races at U.S. tracks.

4. American Paint horses

Paints have a lot of quarter horse breeding in their pedigree and display them in their racing ability. Paints combine the conformation traits of a quarter horse and the coat pattern of a pinto.

The Paint horse breed originated from Spanish Conquistadors horses brought to the U.S. in the 1500s.

Sanctioned Paint horse races are held at racetracks across the United States. To learn more about Paint horse racing in the United States, visit the American Paint Horse Association website here.

5. Appaloosa

Appaloosa horses race mainly in the Western US. These horses were selectively bred by Native American tribes in the northwestern section of the United States.

Appaloosa’s are compact horses with a unique white patterned coat. Appaloosa horses, like Paint horses, have quarterhorse blood in their pedigree.

Picture of an Appaloosa running.

Appaloosa’s are a versatile breed often used for western competitions, such as reining, cutting, and roping. They are also used in English disciplines such as eventing, fox hunting, and show jumping)

Appaloosa racing is held at tracks, mainly in the western United States. They are run in conjunction with Paint horse races. To learn more about Appaloosa horse racing, visit the Appaloosa Horse Club website here.

6. Akhal Teke

Akhal Teke horses are the earliest racehorses; they are an ancient breed that is fast and has endurance. It is best known for the metallic sheen of its coat.

They have a build similar to Thoroughbreds’ but smaller; they average only 15.1 hands tall. Some people consider the Akhal-Teke to be the original racehorse.

Their origin traces back to Turkmenistan, where they used as battle horses and to race more than 3,000 years ago. To learn more about this fantastic horse, visit Akhal Teke Association of Americas’ website here.

7. Standardbred

The Standardbred is the best horse breed in harness racing. The breed was developed in the east coast states. They are solid, powerfully built horses with a calm temperament.

Harness racing gained popularity in the United States as a recreational activity amongst neighbors.

The fame of the informal races spread and began to be an event at county fairs. The sport continued to grow to the point that racetracks were built for the events. Harness racing is a popular sport worldwide especially in Canada, France, and New Zealand.

Standardbreds are versatile and people-oriented animals. They are often used for trail riding and other equestrian events. To read more about harness racing, visit the United States Trotting Associations website here.

Zebra Racing is held in New Orleans

I took my granddaughter to the exotic animal races at the New Orleans Fairgrounds. We had a great day and got to see camels, zebras, and ostriches compete. None of the zebras crossed the finish line with a jockey on board.

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