Introduction to Race Horses
Horse racing is a hugely popular pastime the world over. Under saddle or in harness, these races are always thrilling, bringing out man's competitive nature. A variety of breeds participate, from the long distance of the Thoroughbred to the shorter races of the Quarter horse. Except in special match races, horses from one breed rarely race those from another. Each breed brings it's own particular characteristics the type of racing that they have made popular but the one thing they share is an equally competitive streak in the animals themselves. No amount of training or expert riding could instill the heart that these animals possess to win.
Racing - by Breeds
By far an away the most popular type of racing is flat racing under saddle around an oval dirt or turf track. In this arena, the Thoroughbred is king. Developed in England in the 17th century, the Thoroughbred owes its consistent performance to the infusion of three eastern horses to its bloodline. Without the Byerley Turk, the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian (all named after their owners) the Thoroughbred wouldn't be the horse it is today.
Averaging about 15.2 - 16 hh, the Thoroughbred is relatively small but it's long legs, sloping shoulders and strong hindquarters provide a powerful, economical stride. Well-built hocks give the Thoroughbred a maximum propulsive thrust. Classified as a "hot blood", the term refers to their energy as much as the purity of their lineage.
Originally, British racing (which served as the blueprint for all racetracks) emphasized distance as well as speed. Races were as much as 4 miles long and often run in heats, favoring stamina over shorter bursts of speed. Towards the end of the 18th century, however, more focus switched was placed on speed. Today, the British tradition of five main events for three-year-olds remains pretty much the same as it was in the 1700's. They consist of the 1 3/4 mile St. Leger, the 1 mile 2,000 Guineas, 1,000 Guineas for fillies, the Derby and the Oaks for fillies (each 1 1/2 miles long). Britain's Triple Crown is the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the St. Leger. These British classics are all run on turf tracks. The horses train off-course on grass tracks.
America's Triple Crown follows a similar pattern, featuring three-year olds over three prestigious races. The first is the Kentucky Derby as 1 1/4 miles, followed by the 1 3/16 mile long Preakness and 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes. The most marked difference between British and U.S. racing is that in America racehorses are typically trained and raced on dirt tracks instead of turf.
France and Italy are the other major locations for European racing, but Thoroughbreds are raced everywhere from Hong Kong to Jamaica.
The Quarter Horse, the oldest American breed, was developed in Virginia in the 17th century. It evolved from an amalgam of British breeds to be the chunky, compact horse we know today. Standing only an average of 15 hh, they have massive hindquarters that make them excellent sprinters over short distances from an explosive start. Early settlers loved racing them over a quarter mile (hence the name) through scrub or the middle of the village. By 1656 Quarter Horse racing was established, preceding the Thoroughbred and its oval tracks featuring longer distance racing by several years. Once Thoroughbred racing became all the rage, Quarter Horse racing experienced a sharp decline and was quickly abandoned. However, in recent years Quarter Horse racing has experienced a resurgence in the West, where it's speed and agility first made it a popular cow pony. In some places, the prize money often exceeds that available in Thoroughbred racing.
Quarter Horses are faster than Thoroughbreds, but run shorter distances. The classic distance of a Quarter Horse race is 440 yards (400 m), but races are run from anywhere between 100 and 870 yards (800 m). With the exception of the longer, 870-yard (800 m) distance contests, Quarter Horse races are run flat out, with the horses running at top speed of up to 55mph for the duration. There is less jockeying for position than in Thoroughbred races as turns are rare, and many races end with several contestants grouped together at the wire.
With The Arabian's influence on modern day Thoroughbred racing and its own long history of racing, athleticism, speed and beauty, Arabian racing today makes perfect sense. Called by some "The Original Racehorse", history shows that Arabians were racing with Thoroughbreds in the 1800's. Organized in the U.S. around 1959, in the past ten years Arabian racing has become the fastest growing segment of the Sport of Kings.
Usually the Arabian breed is been better known for its performance in shows and in endurance events, like the annual 100-mile Tevis cup. Fascination with the Arabian has increased the number of racing events and the number of people at the track, especially at the Arabian Cup Championships and the Darley Awards, where the top horses in the world compete. Millions of new Arabian racing aficionados are betting on their favorites, and purses for winning owners are growing in pace.
Small but hardy, these horses exhibit amazing speed over distances and still stay sound. Races range from 1 to 1 1/4 miles long over both dirt and turf tracks. They are not raced until they are at least three years old per the rules of the Arabian Jockey Club.
In the late 1940s, the beautiful Paint racehorse proved itself by defeating some of the great Quarter Horses on the American Quarter Racing Association's bush tracks. Those winning Paints set the standard for today's outstanding runners.
Paints were raced long before official recognition of the sport by APHA in 1966. In that inaugural year, 17 starters ran for $1290 in just two states - Texas and Oklahoma. In 2006, more than 600 starters competed in more than 800 APHA-recognized races for record purses totaling more than $5.3 million. A total of 18 states now feature Paint racing, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Paint Horses also race in Canada.
Small with muscular hindquarters built for sprinting, Paint horses race as early as two years old. Like Quarter Horses, they race short distances from 100 - 870 yards at speeds up to 55mph.
Race Horse Training
Race horses are trained by professional racehorse trainers who often times have to take a test to be a certified trainer. Training sessions for racehorses are designed to help the horse increase their speed and fitness. Training needs to be carefully timed so that the horse is fit but not too tired to perform his best on race day.
Trainers typically run their barns either associated with a track or on private farms.
Appaloosa Race Horses
Although Thoroughbreds are the most well-known racehorses in the United States, many other breeds have their own races as well. Some of the fastest, most versatile of these is the Appaloosa.
The Nez Perce of the Northwest, who bred the spotted horses, for its intelligence, stamina and unique color patterns, also treasured its speed. Racing was a huge part of the Nez Perce culture, giving the American Indian tribe a measuring stick to select the best horses for the hunt. Race distances varied from a few hundred yards to 12 miles.
Appaloosas are middle runners, competing in races from 220 yards to 8 furlongs, with 350 yards and 4 furlongs being the most popular distances. By comparison, Quarterhorses typically run ¼ of a mile or 2 furlongs; Thoroughbreds run anywhere between 5 - 12 furlong races. Appaloosas successfully race against both breeds, having beaten Quarterhorses on their own track and winning special match races against Thoroughbred legends.
Appaloosa racing is now conducted in 10 states at more than 40 tracks throughout the United States and Canada, year-round. It's most popular in Oklahoma, followed by California and Idaho.