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The Fastest Horse in the World: Top Speeds and Common Traits

Last updated: December 3, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

The Thoroughbred Winning Brew is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world’s fastest horse, reaching a speed of 43.97 mph. However, Quarter horses have been recorded running even faster, achieving speeds of up to 55 mph. This article not only highlights these record-breaking horses but also documents the fastest times across various horse breeds.

Delve into the world of these extraordinary equine athletes, exploring the unique traits and physical characteristics that enable them to attain remarkable speeds. From the celebrated speed of Quarter horses and Thoroughbreds to the impressive endurance of Arabians, I provide a comprehensive overview of the fastest horses in the world, showcasing the diverse capabilities of these powerful animals.

Picture of a racehorse running on a track.

The World Record Holder: Winning Brew

Winning Brew, a Thoroughbred horse, etched her name in the record books with an extraordinary feat. She is recognized by the Guinness World Records for the fastest speed ever recorded by a horse – an astonishing 43.97 mph.

This remarkable achievement was accomplished in 2008 at the Penn National Race Course. Winning Brew, only two years old at the time, demonstrated not just the peak potential of her breed but also the pinnacle of equine speed.

Why Thoroughbreds Are Exceptionally Fast

Thoroughbreds, like Winning Brew, are renowned for their speed and agility. These horses are the stars of the horse racing world, and their physical attributes play a significant role in their performance:

  1. Lean and Muscular Build: Thoroughbreds possess a lean, athletic body essential for fast and efficient movement. Their long, slender legs give them a large stride length, enabling them to cover more ground with each step.
  2. Highly Developed Cardiovascular System: These horses have a large heart and an advanced respiratory system. This combination allows for better oxygen delivery to their muscles, which is essential for sustained high speeds.
  3. Fast-Twitch Muscle Fibers: Thoroughbreds have a higher proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers contract quickly, providing the burst of speed necessary in races.
  4. Selective Breeding: For centuries, Thoroughbreds have been selectively bred for speed and endurance. This selective breeding has honed the genetic traits contributing to their racing prowess.
  5. Mental Attributes: Beyond physical abilities, Thoroughbreds also have the mental edge needed for racing. They show a keen competitive spirit and can sustain high speeds over distances, a trait crucial in horse racing.

Winning Brew’s record-setting speed is a testament to the extraordinary capabilities of Thoroughbreds. The breed’s unique physical and mental characteristics have been refined over generations, making them the epitome of speed and endurance in the equine world.

Unveiling the Speed of Quarter Horses

While Thoroughbreds like Winning Brew hold records in long-distance speed, Quarter horses have emerged as surprising competitors in short-distance sprints. Known for their explosive speed, Quarter horses can reach up to 55 mph, surpassing even the fastest Thoroughbreds in short distances. This remarkable capability is showcased in races typically spanning a quarter-mile, from which their name is derived.

Physical Traits Contributing to Their Speed

  1. Compact and Muscular Body: Unlike the leaner Thoroughbreds, Quarter horses have a more compact and muscular build. This physique is ideal for quick acceleration, which is crucial in short sprints.
  2. Powerful Hindquarters: Quarter horses possess exceptionally strong hindquarters. This gives them a significant advantage in generating powerful thrusts, essential for rapid starts and short bursts of high speed.
  3. Versatile Athleticism: Beyond speed, Quarter horses are also known for their agility and versatility. They excel in a variety of disciplines, from rodeo events to show jumping, demonstrating their well-rounded athletic abilities.
Picture of a Thoroughbred, one of the fastest horses in the world.
One of our two-year-old thoroughbreds.

Quarter Horses vs. Thoroughbreds: Speed and Racing Styles

While both breeds are celebrated for their speed, the nature of their racing styles differs significantly:

  1. Race Distance: Thoroughbreds typically race over longer distances, usually ranging from 0.6 to 1.5 miles. Quarter horses, on the other hand, shine in shorter sprints, often limited to a quarter-mile.
  2. Type of Speed: Thoroughbreds are known for their endurance and sustained speed over longer distances. In contrast, Quarter horses display explosive speed and acceleration, making them unmatched in short sprints.
  3. Racing Environment: Thoroughbred racing often takes place on large, oval tracks, highlighting endurance and strategy. Quarter-horse races are usually straight sprints, emphasizing quick reaction and raw speed.
  4. Training and Conditioning: Due to their different racing demands, Thoroughbreds and Quarter horses undergo distinct training and conditioning routines. Thoroughbreds are trained for stamina and endurance, while Quarter horses are conditioned for short, intense bursts of speed.

The world of horse racing is diverse and fascinating, with different breeds excelling in varied aspects of speed and style. Quarter horses, with their exceptional sprinting capabilities, stand as a testament to the diverse range of equine athleticism.

Here is a table comparing the speed and traits of the fastest horse breeds:

BreedTop Speed (mph)Key Traits
Thoroughbred43.97 (Winning Brew)Lean, muscular build; high stamina; endurance racing
Quarter Horse55Explosive speed; muscular build; short-distance racing
American Paint Horse40+Colorful coat patterns; versatile; strong and intelligent
Appaloosa41Spotted coat; endurance; versatility in various disciplines
Standardbred30+Strong; good temperament; endurance; harness racing
Picture of an Arabian horse.

Top Speeds of Various Horse Breeds

Horse racing and equestrian sports showcase a variety of breeds, each with unique attributes contributing to their speed and performance. While Thoroughbreds and Quarter horses are often spotlighted for their exceptional speeds, other breeds like Arabians and Standardbreds also boast remarkable qualities.

Arabian Horses: Endurance and Stamina

Arabian horses are renowned for their endurance and stamina. Originating from the Arabian Peninsula, these horses are known for:

  1. Efficient Body Structure: Arabians have a unique body structure, including a large lung capacity and a shorter back, which contribute to their exceptional endurance.
  2. Versatility: While not the fastest in outright speed, Arabians excel in endurance racing, capable of covering long distances at a steady pace.
  3. Top Speed: Arabians can reach speeds of about 40 mph, making them competitive in various racing and equestrian disciplines.

Standardbreds: The Harness Racing Stars

Standardbreds are primarily known for harness racing, where they pull a two-wheeled cart called a sulky:

  1. Solid Build: They have a strong, muscular build, enabling them to maintain a fast trot or pace without breaking into a gallop.
  2. Pacing and Trotting: Standardbreds are unique in that they are trained for specific gaits – pacing or trotting. This specialization allows them to excel in harness racing.
  3. Endurance and Speed: While their top speeds (about 30+ mph) are lower than Thoroughbreds and Quarter horses, Standardbreds are admired for their endurance and consistency.
Picture of a paint horse.

American Paint Horse: Speed and Color

American Paint Horses are known for their distinctive color patterns as well as their speed:

  1. Colorful and Athletic: These horses are recognized for their colorful coat patterns and are often bred from Quarter horse stock, inheriting similar speed capabilities.
  2. Versatile Performers: While they excel in short-distance sprints, American Paint Horses are also versatile, participating in a range of equestrian disciplines.
  3. Top Speed: American Paint Horses can reach speeds of over 40 mph, benefiting from the athleticism and speed traits of their Quarter horse lineage.
Picture of Appaloosa horse running in a field.

Appaloosa: Speed with Distinctive Style

The Appaloosa is celebrated for its unique spotted coat and its speed:

  1. Spotted Beauty and Strength: Originating from the American Northwest, Appaloosas are not only known for their distinctive coats but also for their strong, compact bodies.
  2. Versatile and Agile: They are agile and versatile, suited for various tasks, including racing. Appaloosas have been used historically for hunting and in battle due to their speed and endurance.
  3. Racing Capabilities: In terms of speed, Appaloosas can reach up to 41 mph, making them competitive in racing and other fast-paced equestrian sports.

More Fast Horse Breeds

Beyond the renowned speed of Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, the equestrian world is graced with a variety of other breeds, each distinguished with unique attributes that contribute to their remarkable speed and agility. These lesser-known yet equally impressive breeds whose speed, endurance, and versatility make them standout performers in their own right.

  1. Akhal-Teke: This breed from Turkmenistan is known for its endurance and speed, especially over long distances. The Akhal-Teke has a distinctive, metallic sheen to its coat and is one of the oldest and most unique horse breeds in the world.
  2. Andalusian: Originating from Spain, the Andalusian is known for its agility and quickness. While not primarily used for racing, their speed and grace are evident in dressage and other equestrian sports.
  3. Morgan: Morgans are known for their versatility and are used in a variety of disciplines, including racing. They possess good stamina and are quite fast, especially in harness racing.
  4. Hanoverian: Originating in Germany, the Hanoverian is often seen in the Olympics and other competitive sports due to its athleticism and speed. They excel in show jumping and dressage.
  5. Mustang: Known for their wild and free-roaming nature, Mustangs in the United States are descendants of escaped horses. They are hardy, with a good turn of speed, especially over rough terrain.
Picture of a young thoroughbred horse in training.

Understanding Horse Speed: The Basics

While there are a variety of factors that can influence a horse’s speed, some are more important than others. One of the most significant factors is genetics. A horse’s parentage can play a big role in determining how fast it can run.

Another important factor is weight. A horse that carries less weight will generally be faster than one that carries more weight. Another factor that can affect speed is the surface on which the horse is running.

A horse will usually run fastest on a firm, level surface such as a racetrack. Finally, the level of fitness of the horse is also important. A horse that is in good condition will usually be able to run faster than one that is not in good condition.

Another important factor is the ability of the rider to work with the horse. A skilled jockey will be able to get the most out of their horse, leading to faster times and better results. So the next time you’re watching a horse race, remember that it’s not just the horse that determines speed but also the rider.

But perhaps the most important factor, however, is the horse’s stride. A horse with a long stride will cover more ground with each step, while a horse with a short stride will have to take more steps to cover the same distance.

Picture of horse leaving the gates from their post position.

As a result, horses with longer strides tend to be faster than those with shorter strides. Other factors, such as weight and surface texture, can also impact a horse’s speed. However, stride length is generally considered to be the most important determinant of speed in horse racing.

Many people typically think height is a factor in horse speed, but this isn’t the case. There have been many instances of racing that prove this. The most obvious is the great Seabiscuit, at only 15 hands who dominated the racing circuit in the late 30s and early 40s. And more recently, the Canadian champion Northern Dancer was also a small horse.

The average quarter horse is shorter than a thoroughbred but is still quicker. What determines a horse’s speed is the length of the horse’s stride and its corresponding stride rate. To excel and be fast, a horse needs to bring its legs forward quickly; this is difficult for horses with long legs.


Stride is the distance a horse travels in a single leap. In other words, the distance from the spot a horse’s front foot hits the ground to where that same foot next lands is the horse’s stride. The average length of a racehorse’s stride is 20 feet. However, champion Man O’ War’s stride length was 28 feet.

Picture of our two year old running

Stride rate

The stride rate or turnover ratio is the number of strides a racehorse completes in a given time. Most racehorses’ stride rate is between 130 and 140 strides per minute. The fastest horses can speed up their stride rate without shortening it. Some champion horses’ stride rates are over 160 strides per minute. Quarter horses naturally have a faster stride rate than thoroughbreds.

However, thoroughbreds are required to maintain their stride over a longer distance and time during a race. To be able to run the necessary intervals in a race with the speed needed to be successful, their anatomical systems must be in sync.

The respiratory system must be working at peak levels. We all know horses need oxygen. However, a horse running hard and taking long strides with a high stride rate requires increased oxygen.

A horse can provide this need during a race by taking air in when they extend their bodies. With their frame stretched, they draw in large amounts of air through their nose, and as they constrict their bodies, they exhale.

Horses that can breathe freely and easily are likely to be the best striders. Open airways are why you will see some racehorse’s tongues tied. The tongue tie is to keep the airway unobstructed during the race. A horse’s circulatory system provides the necessary movement of blood.

Racehorse’s heart performs at a high level. The heart of a racehorse can circulate 75 gallons of blood each minute. The circulation increases the amount of oxygen-rich cells in the bloodstream, providing oxygen to the horse. On average, a horse’s heart weighs 9.5lbs.

Stride angle

Another relevant term used when referencing a horse’s speed is its stride angle. The stride angle is the distance between a horse’s front and back foot, usually measured at the push-off point of the rear foot. The stride angle is used to calculate how far a horse will flatten out when racing.

A higher stride angle results in long strides. Secretariat has the highest stride angle of any racehorse; his stride angle was 110 degrees. Many horse racing and speed analysis students believe stride angle is an essential factor in determining the success of a racehorse.

For a horse to have a long stride, great stride rate, and high stride angle, take synchronized anatomical systems. Airflow, a strong heart, excellent muscle tone, and a solid frame are the keys to speed.

The fastest horses have superior stride angles. You can find similar physical characteristics in the horse breeds used for racing.

Training and Care: Nurturing Speed

Training a horse to reach its maximum speed potential requires a blend of science, experience, and patience. Here are some common training methods used by professionals:

  1. Conditioning Workouts: These are designed to build muscle and endurance. Exercises like trotting, cantering, and interval training are common. Horses are gradually introduced to longer and more intense workouts to improve their stamina and speed without causing injury.
  2. Sprint Training: For breeds like Quarter horses, specialized sprint training is essential. This involves short bursts of high-speed running, which helps in developing fast-twitch muscle fibers necessary for explosive speed.
  3. Strength Training: Incorporating hill work and resistance training helps in building the horse’s strength, particularly in the hindquarters, which is vital for powerful starts and speed.
  4. Flexibility and Agility Drills: These drills, including weaving through cones and over poles, enhance a horse’s agility, balance, and coordination, contributing to better performance on the track.

Care Routines for Optimal Performance

Proper care is as crucial as training in nurturing a horse’s speed:

  1. Balanced Nutrition: A diet tailored to the horse’s individual needs is essential. High-energy feeds are often used for racehorses, along with supplements to support joint health and muscle recovery.
  2. Regular Health Check-Ups: Frequent veterinary check-ups ensure that the horse is in peak physical condition. Attention to hoof care, dental care, and monitoring for any signs of injury or illness is critical.
  3. Rest and Recovery: Adequate rest is crucial for muscle recovery and overall well-being. Horses need a balance of training, turnout, and rest to prevent burnout and injuries.
  4. Mental Wellbeing: A horse’s mental health significantly impacts its performance. Regular interaction, varied routines, and ensuring a comfortable living environment are vital for keeping a horse mentally stimulated and relaxed.

Tips from Professionals

  1. Start Slow: Building speed takes time. It’s important to start slowly and increase the intensity of training gradually.
  2. Listen to the Horse: Each horse is unique. Trainers and veterinarians emphasize the importance of understanding individual signs of fatigue, discomfort, or willingness to train.
  3. Consistency is Key: Regular training and care routines help in developing and maintaining speed.
  4. Focus on Overall Wellbeing: A happy, healthy horse will perform better. Ensuring overall physical and mental health is essential.

Training and caring for a horse to enhance its speed is a comprehensive process that requires attention to detail, expert knowledge, and a deep understanding of the horse’s needs. By following these methods and tips, you can help your horses achieve their full potential, ensuring both their well-being and top performance on the track.

Anatomy of A Running Horse

Every horse has the same components used to move their bodies. However, the confirmation of horse breeds varies, resulting in different capabilities. Some can pull a wagon better, while others can run longer or faster. What separates an animal to allow it to be the fastest horse?

The anatomy of movement in horses can be divided into two parts: the skeleton and the muscles. The frame is the supporting structure, and the muscles overlay and control the movement of the structure.

Groups of muscles work together to propel a horse forward when they are running. If the muscle groups are correctly proportioned, they perform their tasks well, and a horse runs fast. The goal is to stretch out and then recoil the horse’s frame; the longer the stretch and the faster the recoils translate into speed.

What is the perfect combination of frame and muscle? Average. Average in all aspects of a horse’s conformation makes the ideal running specimen. Taller horses are not faster. Thicker muscled or skinnier horses don’t run faster — average height with average proportioned muscling results in the fastest horses.

Eclipse, a thoroughbred from the 18th century, is thought of as the greatest racehorse in history. He won all of his 18 races and usually won by 10-20 lengths. Researchers studied Eclipse’s skeleton and built a computer model to recreate his running movements; they were determined to find out what made this horse so great. In their conclusion, he had an average build.

Eighty percent of the time a horse is running, his legs are off the ground. A great horse needs to be balanced, and Eclipse was just that, a balanced, average-sized horse. Balance is the key to the fastest horses of all time.

Check out my article on the greatest racehorses of all time, and I have Eclipse rated number 10: Top 10 Greatest Racehorses of All Time. Two You May Not Know

Picture of racehorses.

Racing and Speed: A Historical Perspective

Horse racing, one of the world’s oldest sports, has a history dating back thousands of years. The sport’s early origins can be traced to the nomadic tribes of Central Asia, who were among the first to domesticate horses. Racing evolved as these tribes spread across the globe, with each culture adding its unique flavor to the sport. By the time of ancient Greece, horse racing had become a celebrated part of the Olympic Games.

Evolution in the Sport of Kings

In medieval England, horse racing earned the nickname “The Sport of Kings,” due to its popularity among royalty and the nobility. It was during this time that the concept of breeding horses specifically for speed began to take shape. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the import of Arabian, Barb, and Turkoman horses to England, which were bred with English mares to produce the Thoroughbred, a breed synonymous with speed and racing prowess.

Notable Races and Record-Setting Horses

  1. The Epsom Derby: Established in 1780, the Epsom Derby is one of the most prestigious races in the world. It has been a stage for many record-breaking horses, showcasing the evolution of speed in Thoroughbreds.
  2. Secretariat’s Triple Crown Victory: In 1973, Secretariat, an American Thoroughbred, won the Kentucky Derby with a time that set a new track record, a feat that remains unbroken. He went on to win the Triple Crown, setting records in all three races.
  3. Man o’ War: One of the most famous racehorses of the early 20th century, Man o’ War won 20 of 21 races and set several speed records, becoming a symbol of superior equine athleticism.
  4. Phar Lap: An Australian racing legend from the 1930s, Phar Lap captured the public’s imagination with his incredible speed and endurance, dominating the Australian racing scene.

The Impact of Technology and Science on Breeding

The 20th and 21st centuries have seen significant advancements in technology and genetics, further enhancing the breeding process for speed. Genetic testing, selective breeding, and a deeper understanding of equine physiology have all contributed to producing faster, stronger horses.

The history of horse racing is a testament to humanity’s enduring fascination with speed. From its ancient beginnings to the modern-day spectacle, the sport has evolved dramatically, driven by the quest to breed and train the fastest horses. This historical journey not only celebrates the achievements of legendary horses and races but also underscores the continuous evolution of speed in the equine world.


Who was faster, Phar Lap or Secretariat?

Secretariat ran faster than Phar Lap over the same distance, but there is a caveat, Phar Lap ran carrying heavier weight. If the two were to race under the same conditions, it would be difficult to predict the winner.

Could Seabiscuit have beaten Secretariat?

Although Seabiscuit was a great racehorse with amazing heart and stamina, it’s doubtful he could beat Secretariat in a race at any length. Secretariat could come off the pace or run from the front, traits that make Secretariat great.

Miles Henry