When we consider the top speed that a race horse can reach, we don’t just mean if they’re allowed to go running to their heart’s content. Instead, we’re talking about the different speeds that can be reached by a horse depending on their age, the discipline that they take part in and the length of the race. There is, of course, no easy answer to the question, but it is fair to surmise that a young horse taking part in a five furlong flat race is going to be able to hit faster speeds than an older horse that is running in a 3 mile steeplechase.
We know that horses have different skills depending on what it is that they’re being asked to do, so it is perhaps no real surprise that there is no one answer when it comes to the speed of horses. Even the type of horse that you’re talking about will make a difference to the speed that they can reach, which is all thanks to the breeding that has gone in to producing them. The likes of the training that they’re put through and the fitness that they’ve achieved will make a difference to how fast it is that they’re able to run.
The Fastest Horse On Record
Before we begin to look at the sorts of speeds that a horse can be expected to achieve depending on its circumstance, let’s have a look at the fastest horse on record. According to the Guinness Book of Records, that honour goes to Winning Brew, who ran at a speed of 70.35 kilometres per hour, or 43.97 miles per hour, when running at the Penn National Race Course in Pennsylvania, the United States of America. The horse ran the two furlong race in 20.57 seconds on the 14th of May 2008, running on the flat with no obstacles.
The two-year-old filly was trained by Francis Vitale and achieved her impressive time on the Grantville course. Over a longer period, the record belongs to a horse called Hawkster. Running over a mile and a half art Santa Anita Park in the United States of America, Hawkster achieved a speed of 60.86 kilometres per hour, which equates to 37.82 miles per hour. That speed was reached on the 14th of October in 1989, meaning that the race was finished in two minutes, 22.8 seconds and a world record was set over such a length.
The Factors That Determine Speed
Whilst it is all but impossible to talk about the exact speeds achieved by various horses, there are certain things that we can discuss in terms of what allows horses to run as quickly as they can. One of the first aspects of a horse is their stride, which is the distance travelled by a horse in a single leap. The average strike length of a horse is 20 feet, but obviously some horses can outstrip that average. As an example, the champion race horse Man O’ War, who won countless races in America during his life, had a stride of 28 feet.
Alongside a horse’s stride is their stride rate. This is the number of times that they can complete their stride over a given period of time. For most race horses, this comes in at between 130 and 140 strides per minute. Again, this is an average rate and can therefore be outperformed by some horses. Thoroughbreds, for example, tend to need to maintain their stride race for a longer distance and this can sometimes result in a smaller stride rate overall. Taking shorter strides or fewer strides can allow horses to carry on for longer.
The final thing worth mentioning here is the stride angle of the horse. This is the distance between their front and back feet, which is typically measured at the push-off point of their rear foot. Secretariat, who won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in America in 1973, for example, had a stride angle of 110 degrees. There is an argument that stride angle is one of the most important aspects of a horse when it comes to determining how successful, or otherwise, they are likely to be in their career.
How Old Is The Horse?
The age of a horse is one of the deciding factors in how fast they will be. In the world of flat racing, horses as young as two can reach impressive speeds, for example. When it comes to jump racing, on the other hand, such a lack of experience will stop the horse from being able to reach the same speeds as its older colleagues. That isn’t to say that the horse is suddenly, slower, just that at the age of two it doesn’t yet know how to time its jump and will therefore struggle with fences and hurdles, probably failing to get over them.
An older horse, meanwhile, will have learnt how to get its stride right as it approaches a fence and will therefore be much quicker than younger horses. Just because they’re quicker over fences doesn’t mean that they’d be fast on the flat, however. Indeed, older horses are trained to have different skills to younger ones, so the likelihood is that an eight-year-old, say, will be faster over fences than a two-year-old but would lose to their younger colleague when taking part in a flat race over a shorter distance.
The Length Of The Race & Number Of Jumps
The other deciding factor in a horse’s speed is the length of the race that they’re taking part in. A race over five furlongs, as an example, will allow the jockey to push the horse to race as fast as possible over a relatively short distance. Put that same horse over a race that lasts for two miles and seven furlongs and there is simply no way that they’d be able to keep up the same speed. Indeed, asking a horse to run at the same speed over a long race will put them under immense physical demands, which would be quite dangerous.
Equally, how many jumps there are in a race can be a deciding factor when it comes to how quickly a horse will be able to run. Taking on jumps requires a horse to shift their bodyweight and adjust their stride, which obviously slows them down. A race with eight hurdles over two miles is always going to be slower than one with ten hurdles over the same distance, for example. In other words, the shorter the race is on the flat, the faster the speeds, whilst the fewer jumps there are in a National Hunt event, the quicker the race will be run, depending on its length.