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What’s a Furlong and Why it’s Used in Horse Racing? 1 Reason

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Horse racing has some unique terms, but the one I get asked to explain the most is furlong. The questions are usually, what is a furlong, and why is it used in horse racing? So I thought it would be a good idea to provide an answer here.

A furlong is a standard unit of length that originated in England in the late 13th or early 14th century and equals 220 yards, which is an eighth of a mile. The furlong was the accepted unit of measure during the birth of horse racing in England in the 16th century and applied to racecourses.

Most horse racing fans know a furlong is an eighth of a mile, but did you know it’s mentioned in the Bible or still used on traffic signs in some places? Furlong is a unique word with a fascinating story.

Picture of two horses on a training track.  There is a two furlong red and white pole in the background.
The Red and White Pole in the Background is the quarter pole (2 furlongs).

What is a furlong?

A furlong is a unit of measure commonly used in horse racing, but where did the term originate, and how long is a furlong? I answer these questions and more.

How long is a furlong in horse racing?

In horse racing, a furlong is a unit of distance equal to one-eighth of a mile. In other words, a horse needs to travel eight furlongs in order to complete a mile-long race.

The term “furlong” is derived from the Old English word for “furrow,” which was defined as the distance that could be plowed by a horse in one day. Today, horse races are typically run on dirt or turf tracks, and some are measured in yards, not furlongs.

However, many horse racing tracks still use the furlong as their primary unit of measurement. For example, the Santa Anita Park horse racing track in California uses furlongs.

So, if you’re ever at a horse race and someone asks you how long a furlong is, you can impress them with your knowledge by telling them it’s one-eighth of a mile.

One furlong equals:

  • one-eighth of a mile
  • 220 yards
  • 660 feet
  • .2 kilometer
  • 201.1 meters

The Etymology of the word “furlong.” 

I find it interesting to know how words came about; the etymology of words is studying the origin of words and how they’ve evolved throughout history. And furlong had an interesting development. It is descended from the “Old English” word furlang.

Picture of a horse running

Now that doesn’t provide much of a time frame because “Old English” includes approximately 700 years, from 450 to 1150 AD, from the Anglo-Saxon settlement time to the Norman Invasion.

But what is interesting is that over 85 percent of Old English words are no longer in use. But besides a change in one letter, “a” to”o,” furlong has withstood the test of time.

Back to the origins, furlang is a combination of two other “Old English” words, furh and lang. Furh translates to furrow, which is a trench in a field made by a plow.

Lang means long, so the combination translates to represent the length of a furrow or trench made with a plow. In “Old English,” furlang refers to a trench’s distance of over one acre of land in a ten-acre field. The length was formalized to equal 40 rods or 660 feet.

Furlong is an ancient unit of measure.

Romans used the word to refer to a stadium length and the Roman mile. Furlang was equal to one-eighth of a Roman mile; however, it didn’t translate to an eighth of an English mile.

Rather than disrupting land measurement practices, England converted their mile to equal the Romans’. In the early 1300s, England standardized the mile as eight furlongs, and a furlong was set at 40 rods.

These standards established the length of a rod, yard, and foot as well. A rod was 5.5 yards or 16.5 feet. During Queen Elizabeth’s reign in the 16th century, she established these measurements as national standards.

Furlongs are rarely used today outside of horse racing.

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, formerly Burma uses furlongs to note distances on their highways signs; however, they are unique in this regard. And England continues to reference the length of their many canals by both miles and furlongs.

Interesting facts:

  • A perfect acre is a rectangle, one furlong long and 4 rods wide.
  • One furlong is about three-fifths as tall as The Eiffel Tower, the tallest structure in Paris. Another way to put it: the Eiffel Tower is 1.610 furlongs tall.

Why are horse races measured in furlongs?

Tradition is why horse racing is measured in furlongs; it’s all about tradition. You can see this in the breeding requirements, track names, and naming restrictions. Furlongs were the unit of measurement initially used to set up racecourses in England back in the 1500s when horse racing was formalized.

A horse race’s distance is measured in furlongs; one furlong is equal to 1/8 of a mile or 220 yards. Horse races less than a mile are referred to by furlongs. Once a race exceeds a mile, it goes by fractions of a mile.

For example, a three-quarter-mile race is listed as six furlongs, but a mile and a quarter race is called a mile and quarter, not a mile and four furlongs. Most horses begin their racing career competing in races less than a mile.

Picture of racehorses running in the first furlong of a race.

Horse racing records in furlongs.

Races are timed at quarter poles (2 furlongs) and are listed in the racing forms. These quarter pole times are how Thoroughbreds have a faster record at this distance.

Quarterhorse records are based on their time coming out of the starting gate in a quarter-mile race, whereas Thoroughbreds are timed every 220 yards. Having a running start gives them an advantage.

A furlong is represented in the racing program with an f. So if you see 4(f) or 6(f), you know now know that it’s a half or three-quarter-mile race.

The world record for a one-furlong horse race?

The world record in a 220-yard race (one furlong) belongs to a quarter horse named Travel Plan. He set the record in a cheap claiming race in 2009 at the Los Alamitos Racecourse with a time of 11:493.

Thoroughbreds don’t run one-furlong races, but their times are recorded during a race. During races of one mile or less, a fast Thoroughbred completes one furlong in 12 to 13 seconds and 14 seconds for races greater than a mile.

What is the World record for two furlongs?

A new world record was set in 2020 for 2(f) by Drip Brew, a six-year-old Thoroughbred mare. She scorched the course running the quarter-mile in 19.93 seconds at Praire Meadows.

Since 2008 Winning Brew held the record covering the distance in 20.57 seconds. The fastest time for a quarter horse is 20.94, which is slower; however, they are timed from a stop, whereas the Thoroughbreds are already running.

What is the record for a five-furlong race?

Chinook Pass, a three-year-old Thoroughbred, set the record for 5(f) in 1982 with a time of 55 1/3 seconds. He went on to win almost half a million dollars and was ridden by the great: Laffit A. Pincay, Jr.

What is the record for a five-and-one-half furlong race?

Hollywood Harbor held off a tough field to set the record for 5 1/2 (f) in a time of 1:00.87 at Emerald Downs in 2012. You can see his exciting race below.

Below is a YouTube video of the 5 1/2 record.

What is the record for a six-furlong race?

Twin Sparks holds the 6(f) record. The record of 1:06.49 was set in 2009 at Turf Paradise. After an outstanding 2009 season, Twin Sparks didn’t have much success.

What is the record for a seven-furlong race?

Rich Cream was a late bloomer; he didn’t show much in his first three racing seasons but broke out in 1980 as a five-year-old and set the 7(f) record. His time of 1:19 2/3 seconds has stood for over 40 years.

What is a furlong in the bible?

The Bible is a great resource not only for your soul but also provides a historical perspective. Furlong used in the Bible is based on the Greek measure of length, being 600 Greek feet, or equal to 606 3/4 English feet, which is less than our current furlong, 660 ft.

In the Bible, a furlong is mentioned in several passages, typically in reference to the length of a journey. In the Gospel written by Jesus’s disciple John, furlongs are mentioned on at least two occasions, first in John 6:19.

In this verse, John Jesus walks on water, and John describes the distance the apostles rowed their boat as “about five and twenty or thirty furlongs.” During the story of Lazarus’ death in John 11:18, John uses furlongs to describe the distance from Jeruselum to Bethany.

The apostle John continued his use of furlongs in the book of Revelations. See Revelation 21:16, wherein he described a city as being twelve thousand furlongs. And in Revelation 14:20, he wrote that blood came out of a winepress by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.

John also uses horses as symbols in Revelations. Luke uses furlongs in Luke 24:13. After seeing Jesus was no longer in his tomb, two walked to a village called Emmaus, about threescore furlongs from Jerusalem.

FAQs

What is a 6-furlong race?

A furlong is a unit of measure equal to one-eighth of a mile. Therefore, a 6-furlong race is three-quarters of a mile long. A good 6 furlong time is 1:09

What is a good time for 7 furlongs?

Horse racing experts generally agree that the ideal time for a horse to run 7 furlongs is between 1:20 and 1:30. Of course, every horse and track is different, and some may be able to run a bit faster or slower and still put in a good performance.

What is a good time for a 3 furlong workout?

It depends; if your horse is a sprinter, its 3-furlong workout should be faster than a distance runner or one that comes off the pace. However, a good workout time for a well-conditioned horse is 36 seconds.