As punters, we see so many race horses take to the field each year that aside from the odd few who become well known, they can all start to blend into one.
Some race only a handful of times before being retired as not good enough, others give it stacks and dominate for a few short years before going to stud, and a few seem to go on forever.
We see them on the race card and we see them on the tele or via live stream on our bookie’s website, but we don’t really see what goes on behind the scenes.
It might seem like a lot of horses don’t do all that much racing on an annual basis, but there is a lot that goes on during training that we are not party to.
When trying to answer the question that this article poses then, it is impossible to come to any sort of definitive conclusion, but what we can do is look at averages.
If we also keep it to competitive races only – i.e if we don’t include distances run during training – we can come up with a number that is at least vaguely representative for the average horse.
Of course, the ‘average’ horse doesn’t exist, because the very definition of the word ‘average’ is to find one single number from a larger data set, so we will have to create one.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the most bang average horse on the UK racing scene; AverageExample.
Number of Races Each Year on Average
An obvious place to start is with the average number of races run by a race horse each year, but with around 14,000 horses in training in the UK alone, where do we start?
It goes without saying that this number will vary from horse to horse; some will race only once while others might go out every month or maybe even more frequently.
In the same way that a human needs time to recover after something particularly strenuous, so does a horse, and competitive racing is incredibly strenuous for horses.
With this in mind, most owners and trainers will give their horse at least 3 to 4 weeks to recuperate after a race, and even longer for the most valuable and successful horses. These animals are assets at the end of the day so running them into the ground is neither sensible nor responsible – horses need to be carefully looked after.
Other factors include race distance, since horses running shorter distances will not need as long to recuperate, and whether the horse is a young flat racer or an older National Hunt racer.
The smallest number of races a horse can run in a year is obviously 1, but we want to discount any horses that never run again, and most horses with any sort of career run at least a handful of times each year so let’s go with 3 as the smaller number. The most races run can be worked out by dividing 52 (weeks in a year) by 3 (3 weeks break between each race):
- 52 ÷ 3 = 17.33
So let’s call it 18, although it should be noted that very few horses actually race this often.
That gives us 15 races between the least run and the most run (the difference between 3 and 18), and the midway point is therefore 7.5. A horse can’t run seven and a half races, so we will call it seven.
At this point, we will introduce two other fictional horses and compare them to AverageExample. First up, we have the ever struggling, LightlyLimping, and at the other end of the spectrum, the highly impressive, ThinksHesSpecial.
Another way of doing this would be to take a random race card and find the average number of races run for all horses on the card from the previous year.
We did this several times spread across flat and National Hunt races from 2022, and got the following results from the data:
|Race||Type||Runners||Average in 2022|
Again, this is not a perfect sample as it is a very small mix of jumps and flat courses, and in one particular race one of the runners had never run before.
Nevertheless, if we take all of the average figures from each race card and then find the average of them as a whole, we get:
This backs up the 7.5 number we came to earlier and strengthens our estimate.
So either way we work it out, if we are talking about a very general average, then 7 races per year is a good number to settle on.
How Long are the Racecourses?
The next piece of key information we need is the average length of all racecourses, so we can then multiply that number by the 7 races we have just established as the average number of races run.
If we don’t do this, and instead just pick a random racecourse, we will skew the results. It gets even more difficult when you factor in big races that are only run once a year and include more than one circuit of a track.
For example, Chester is the smallest course in the UK at 1 mile and 1 furlong or 1.8km, while the longest individual race is the Grand National at 4 miles and 2.5 furlongs or 6.9km.
So a horse could run 3 times at Chester but still not have run as far as a horse that only ran the Grand National all year.
Since these big races only happen annually and involve a relatively small number of all horses which race each year, we have taken the length of every flat and jumps course in the UK but not included these big individual races.
We have, however, included both courses where a racecourse has both a jumps and a flat course.
There are 59 different racecourses in the UK; the longest is Pontefract (2 miles and 5 furlongs or 4.2km) and the shortest is Chester (1 mile and 1 furlong or 1.8km) as already mentioned, so these are the extremities.
The average distance of all the racecourses is:
- 1 mile and 5 furlongs or 2.67km
A good 69% of those courses are between 2km and 3km inclusive, 25% are longer, and just 6% are shorter. A good 45% are between 2km and 2.5km, which is what balances this average out.
Armed with this information we can move on to the final step.
Average Distance Run by A Racehorse in a Year
And so we come back to the original question asked at the start of the article.
If our horse, AverageExample, runs 7 races each year, at an average distance of 2.67km per race, we only have to do some very simply multiplication to get our answer.
- 7 x 2.67 = 18.69
So 18.69 kilometers is our answer, and this converts to 11 miles and 6 furlongs.
Let’s have another look at how AverageExample would compare to LightlyLimping and ThinksHesSpecial, using the same average race length.
|Distance Run||8.01km/5miles 11f||18.69km/11miles 6f||48.06km/29miles 8f|
As previously explained, this is just an idea of the sort of distance a race horse might run, it’s not an official figure, because as far as we know no such figure exists.
So much can impact how often a horse runs, how much rest they need, any injuries, owner’s decisions to retire them early to make money from breeding, the courses they race at and the lengths of those courses – it really is a never ending list.
So don’t take this as a concrete number, but it is an intelligent calculation of the estimated average.
How Fast Does a Race Horse Run?
Veering away from the main topic of this page, it might be interesting to pass the post of this article by looking at how quickly a racehorse can cover the ground we have been talking about.
Some horses are faster than others and breeds can also impact a horse’s top speed, but the Guinness Book of World Records logged a little-known horse called Winning Brew as the fastest, achieving a speed of 43.97mph in 2008.
The American horse was just 2 years old when she did it, and she only raced 3 times in her racing career, so it just goes to show that being fast isn’t the only factor.
With this in mind, horses are trained to reach speeds of between 40mph to 44mph at their fastest, but most can’t keep up these speeds for long. Even 20 seconds would be a stretch – a good jockey controlling the speed and understanding their horse’s stamina is essential – so we can’t use this speed over the whole race or we would get an unrealistically fast time.
An average ‘good’ speed would be about 12 seconds per furlong, which works out at about 1 minute for a 5 furlong race, and about 1 minute 35 seconds for a 1 mile race.
We know that our average race length of 2.67km works out as approximately 1 mile and 5 furlongs, and with 8 furlongs to a mile that’s a little over 13 furlongs:
- 13 x 12 seconds = 2 minutes and 36 seconds
This means that our horse, AverageExample, will take just 18 minutes and 12 seconds to complete the 7 races they compete in each year.
That’s 18 minutes and 12 seconds of competitive racing, and 18 minutes and 12 seconds minutes of excitement for the punter on an annual basis, with who knows how much time and money spent in training during the other 528,581 minutes an 48 seconds of the year.
Of course, ThinksHesSpecial might be able to do it quicker and LightlyLimping might not finish at all, but that’s the beauty of the Sport of Kings, isn’t it?