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How Fast Can a Horse Run? Incredible Horse Racing Records!

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I was recently at the New Orleans Fairground race track. The speed of the horses was astounding and made me wondered how fast they could run, but not just their top speed but also at various distances.

Horses are fast in general, but the fastest horse ran 55 mph, this feat was accomplished by a Quarter horse. However, The Guinness World Records recognizes a two-year-old thoroughbred named Winning Brew as the fastest racehorse running 43.97 mph.

When referencing humans’ speed, it’s usually in context to distance, the fastest 100 meters, the fastest mile, or the fastest marathon. It’s essential to do the same when referring to horses.

Picture of a racehorse running down a track.

Horse speed records at various distances.

We know the fastest speed a horse reached an amazing 55 miles per hour, but I thought it would be interesting to compile a list of the fastest horses ran at various distances.

The fastest 1 1/2 miles ran by a horse is 2:22.8.

The mile and a half race is one of the most prestigious racing records. It tests a horse’s heart and endurance. It is the longest distance run in the triple crown series.

The record for 1½ miles is 2:22.8, which converts to 37.82 mph. This feat was accomplished by a 3-year-old Thoroughbred named Hawkster at Santa Anita Park in California in 1989 2min 22.8sec.

Secretariat set the 1 1/2 mile record as a three-year-old in the Belmont Stakes Triple Crown race. His time for the race was 2:24 shattering the old record by more than two seconds.

Secretariat won the race by over 30 lengths, and the competition is recognized as the most significant performance of the twentieth century by a North American racehorse.

The fastest horse at 1 1/4 mile was Spectacular Bid at 1:57.9.

The legendary racehorse Spectacular Bid won the Grade I Strub Stakes, running the fastest 1¼ miles on a dirt track, 1:57.8. He broke a 30-year-old record of 1:58.2 set by Hall of Famer Noor carrying under 130 pounds in 1950. Spectacular Bid’s time still stands.

Secretariat has the Kentucky Derby record for 1 1/4 mile.

The Kentucky Derby race is a 1 1/4 mile race that is restricted to qualifying three-year-old horses. Spectacular Bid has the world record for the fastest 1 1/4 mile race, but how much quicker is he than the fastest Kentucky Derby winner?

Spectacular Bid’s time in the mile and a quarter is almost two seconds faster than the fastest time ever run in the Kentucky Derby. Secretariat set the Derby record in 1973 at 1:59.4 minutes. Secretariat broke Northern Dancer’s record set in 1964.

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The fastest 1 1/8 mile ran by a horse is 1:45.

The fastest mile and an eighth is 1:45, set by Simply Majestic in 1988 at the Budweiser Breeders’ Cup Handicap. In 1972 at the Marlboro Cup, Secretariat set the world record running a mile and an eighth in 1:45 2/5.

This world record stood for 15 years until Simply Majestic beat the time by two-fifths of a second.

The fastest 1 1/16 mile ran by a horse is 1:38.2/5.

A mile and a sixteenth race is a typical distance at many racetracks. In 1983 Hoedown’s Day, a five-year-old thoroughbred set a world record running the mile and sixteenth in 1:38 2/5’s at Bay Meadows.

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Horseracing’s record for 1 mile 70 yards is 1:37.90.

Specific track configurations are set up for racing one mile seventy yards in place of one-mile races. Two horses have recorded the fastest times at this distance.

The record-setting horses are Schedule and With Probability. Their times are 1:37.90, Schedule hit its mark in 2004 and With Probability followed in 2005.

The fastest mile on dirt ran by a horse is 1:32. 1/5.

The record for fastest mile ran on dirt was set in 1968 by the thoroughbred Dr. Fager. He won the 1 mile Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park in 1:32 1/5, establishing a new American record for a mile on dirt.

Racing a mile is a real test of a horses’ talents, challenging both quickness and endurance. Dr. Fager’s shattered the record carrying 134 lbs and won the race by ten lengths.

Dr. Fager’s record mile was set over 50 years ago and has only been tied once by Najran in 2003. However, Najran was carrying 21 pounds less than Dr. Fager (134 to 113), so pound for pound, Dr. Fager still has the fastest mile ever on dirt.

The fastest a horse ran one mile on turf is 1:31.23

The world record for the fastest time on turf to run a mile is 1:31.23. This record is held by Mandurah, who set the record in a handicap race at Monmouth Park on June 6, 2010.

Although horses typically run faster on dirt, the record for the fastest mile was set on turf.

The fastest a horse has ever run a 1/2 mile is 43.20.

On July 28, 2012, a grey roan gelding thoroughbred named Oklahoma Natural ran a blistering four furlongs (1/2 mile) in 43.20. This feat occurred at Fair Meadows race track. It’s the fastest recorded time of a horse that has run one half of a mile.


The fastest a horse has run 1/4 mile is 20.57.

The fastest quarter-mile that’s ever been run was 20.57 by a two-year-old thoroughbred filly named Winning Brew. She reached a speed of 43.97 mph, causing the Guinness World Records to list this feat as the fastest ever clocked on a racetrack.

The record occurred on May 14, 2008, at Penn National. The fastest quarter-mile by a Quarter horse is 20.686. The record was set in 2005 by a quarter horse named A Long Goodbye.

The previous record was held by Truckle Feature for 30 years from 1973 to 2003. Since 2003 the record has been surpassed five times. A Long Goodbye broke the record at the MBNA America New Mexico Challenge Championship.

The fastest marathon a horse ran is 1 hour 20 minutes

Horses and humans compete annually in a 22-mile race called Man vs. Horse. Although officially not marathon distance, it is close enough for our purposes.

The competition takes place in the Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells every June. The race began in 1980 as a friendly wager over who could cover 22 miles faster, a human or a horse?

Apparently, the competition hasn’t provided a clear winner because the race continues to this date. William Jones on Solitaire recorded the fastest time, finishing the course in one hour and twenty minutes in 1984.

The first time a man won the race was in 2004 by Huw Lobb in 2 hours, 5 minutes and 19 seconds. Humans were victorious again in 2007 and beat the first equine competitor by more than 10 minutes.

Distance and surface affect horses’ speed.

Horse racing records are categorized by distance and surface. It’s necessary to distinguish because distance and surface affect speed. Horses running longer distances will naturally have a slower pace than horses running shorter distances. And likewise, horses running on turf run slower than horses on a dirt track.

Thoroughbreds typically run longer distances than Quarter horses.

In thoroughbred horse racing, the most common distances are One Mile. One mile and 70 yards. 1 1/16 miles. 1 1/8 miles. 1 ¼mile. Race distances are broken into sections called furlongs.

A furlong is one-eighth of a mile and is equivalent to 220 yards. The name originated from Old English and referred to the length of a standard acre. During a race, the speed a horse runs two furlongs is referred to as its splits or fractional times.

Generally, the track caller announces the cumulative splits at each pole, 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, and 3/4 mile if the race is a mile. If the race is longer than a mile, like the Kentucky Derby, a 10-furlong race, four splits are announced.

Quarterhorses are sprinters and run shorter races than thoroughbreds. Their competitions aren’t measured in miles but yards, the most common quarterhorse races are run at distances from 220 to 870 yards.

Horse races are typically run on dirt or grass.

Horse speed records are broken down by distance and based upon the surface the horses were competing on. There are three primary track surfaces in the United States, dirt, grass, and synthetic surfaces.

Of the three surfaces, dirt is by far the most common. It is affordable, and horses are quickest on natural dirt tracks. However, dirt tracks don’t provide much shock absorption and increase stress on the racehorse’s legs.

Turf tracks are natural grass and are the most common surface used in horse racing in Europe. It is second in the states after dirt. Turf surfaces have a couple of advantages over dirt tracks, horses running on turf usually stay healthier, and clods and dust are not thrown on following horses and jockeys as they are on dirt tracks.

Turf races are typically slower than races ran on dirt: the grass impedes the horses’ stride creates friction, turf courses take more energy to run on than a dirt track does – especially when the turf is wet or soft. Turf surfaces seem to favor horses with stamina and more efficient movement.

Some horse tracks have synthetic surfaces

Synthetic surfaces have reduced the number of racing fatalities suffered by horses on the track. The most common artificial track surfaces are Polytrack, Tapeta footings, and cushion track.

Synthetic track surfaces are similar to playgrounds’ material; they are made of rubber, spandex, and sand. Polytrack is the most popular, and all have benefits over natural surfaces. The main disadvantage is they wear down quickly and are expensive to maintain.

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