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Quarter Horse Racing: Distances, History, and Records

Last updated: April 4, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

My first racehorse was a quarter horse, which got me hooked on this sport years ago. So during a conversation with some friends about horse racing, I found it surprising to learn how many people aren’t familiar with quarter horse racing.

The quarter horse breed originated in the United States. They are known for their speed and agility, which makes them excellent racers. Quarter horses can compete in many different types of races, but they’re most well-known for racing short distances.

Quarter horses are known for their work on ranches. But they are not only great ranch horses; they’re also excellent racehorses. This article takes an in-depth look at quarter horse racing history, its distances, and records.

Picture of a quarter horse.

Quarter horses race various distances.

The American Quarter Horse Association established eleven distances of quarter horse races between 220 yards and 870 yards. The most common distances are 350 yards long, even though the traditional quarter-mile is only 220 yards.

I find that the shorter distance races are typically better for younger horses because they’re less likely to get hurt or tire out by running longer distances. The fastest time a quarter horse ran 220 yards is just over twenty seconds, 20.686 to be exact.

The Triple Crown of Quarter-Horse Racing is a series held at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico. The series includes the Kansas Futurity (June), Rainbow Futurity (July), and All-American Futurity – where purses are worth up to $1 million!

Check out this YouTube video of a match race between a quarter horse and a Thoroughbred.

Is a quarter horse faster than a thoroughbred?

Quarter horses are known for their quick burst of speed. On the other hand, a thoroughbred is a breed that was specifically bred for speed and endurance. So which one is faster?

The fastest quarter horse ran 55 mph, which is faster than any Thoroughbred. But a Thoroughbred can outrun a quarter horse over the course of long distances.

In general, quarter horses run faster over a short distances. So, if you want a horse with an amazing burst of energy and can out-sprint just about any animal, then the quarterhorse would be your best bet.

On the other hand, if you want to know which horse can run the fastest mile or two-mile race, a thoroughbred is the choice. I wrote an article about the different horse breeds that race that includes some helpful information about various types of horse racing.

History of Quarter Horse Racing:

The Quarter Horse breed originated in America through crossbreeding Thoroughbreds and horses brought to North America by Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500s. Due to their sturdy build, quickness, and intelligence- they quickly became favorites of frontiersmen.

The history of quarter horse racing started in Virginia over 350 years ago when settlers first introduced it to entertain themselves with something different from farming life during this time period.

From the beginning of the breed, owners pitted quarter horses against each other to display their speed. The original races measured 0.25 miles, and they would be run on straight pathways cut through forests or in settlements.

The sport of quarter horse racing was formally established on flat tracks in North America during the 1940s and quickly spread to close to 100 tracks across the United States.

Quarter horses offered a new and unique way to experience the thrill of horse racing. What sets it apart from thoroughbred racing is that it offers much shorter sprints- typically less than a half-mile long, making for fast-paced action.

In 1974 they renamed their only major championship from “World Championship Futurity” to the much more descriptive “All America Grand National Championship Futurity” or AAGNCF.

Quarter horse racing records

The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) is the registry for quarter horses in the United States and Canada. It is the governing body of quarter horse racing and maintains the records.

World Records 

110 yardsChosen Jewel6.7702021Mexico City, Mexico
220 yards   Captain BD:11.4482016Hialeah Park, Florida
250 yardsAllens Cash:12.5882012Mexico City, Mexico
300 yardsValiant War Hero:14.5942011Sunland Park, New Mexico
330 yardsNeversaynever:15.8592011Sunland Park, New Mexico
350 yardsStrike It Quick:16.6422010Sunland Park, New Mexico
400 yardsDouble Down Special:18.6132010Sunland Park, New Mexico
440 yardsFirst Moonflash:20.2742009Sunland Park, New Mexico
550 yardsJoltin Jess:26.0332013Hialeah Park, Florida
770 yardsFree Thought:39.4952019Century Downs, Rocky View, Alberta
870 yardsGone To The Mountain:43.0292009Sunland Park, New Mexico
1000 yardsSkyline Lover:52.2242012Hialeah Park, Florida

To learn about Thoroughbred racing records, check out this article: How Fast Can a Horse Run? Incredible Horse Racing Records!

Picture of a quarter horse after a race.
Quarter horse post-race at Louisiana Downs.

Famous racing quarter horses

Rocket Wrangler

Rocket Wrangler was a champion 2-year-old colt in 1970 and went on to win ten races and earnings of $252,167. But he made his mark on the quarter horse world as a sire after he retired from racing.

Racing legend Rocket Wranglers’ offspring earned over 9 million in an era of much lower purses with 56 stakes winners, including two-time AQHA world champion Dash For Cash and Hall of Fame member First Down Dash.

First Down Dash

The son of Dash for Cash, First Down Dash was, and still is today, one of the most well-known quarter horses in racing history. He won thirteen races out of fifteen starts in his career, and his lifetime earnings were $857,256.

In the world of horseracing, First Down Dash is a legend. With over 1,100 winners to his name and 224 stakes winners in total (including six All-American Futurity G1s), he left an indelible mark on quarter horse racing.

Three Bars

You’re likely surprised to see a Thoroughbred stallion on this list, but I had to include Three Bars. In the 1950s, Three Bars was a prized stallion who left his mark on horse racing for generations.

The stallion’s progeny established the foundation of quarter horse racing. His descendants include Impressive, Rocket Bar, Dash For Cash, and many others.  

Quarter horses greatest racing sire-Dash for Cash

The late B.F. Phillips Jr. bred and raised “Dash For Cash,” the 1976-1977 World Champion Quarter Horse, who won 21 out of 25 races in his time, including two ‘champion of champions‘ titles (G1).

Dash for Cash is the most well-known and successful quarter-horse sire of all time. His offspring have earned more than $39 million on the track with one AQHA Supreme Championship, 880 ROMs, and 39 world championships in 135 stakes winners to their names.


Where do quarter horses race?

Quarter horse racing is popular in the Western and Southern United States but can be found throughout the U.S. and in Canada. In my home state of Louisiana, they race at four tracks: Delta Downs, Evangeline Downs, Louisiana Downs, and Fairgrounds.

Can quarter horses race in the Kentucky Derby?

Quarter horses are not eligible for the Kentucky Derby because this prestigious race is reserved for the best of three-year-old Thoroughbreds.