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What is a Furlong in Horse Racing?

Last updated October 23, 2023 by Rachael Kraft

Horse racing is an exhilarating and nerve-racking sport. But with so many different horse racing distances and different racing lingo, it can be hard to keep things straight. You might be asking yourself, “What is a furlong? And what does 6 furlong mean?” Learning about horse racing furlong and racing distances can help you better understand and appreciate this amazing sport.

Here, we’ll cover the basics of horse racing distances and tell you everything you need to know about length in horse racing.

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Measuring Length in Horse Racing

a photo of a horse race in actionFirst things first - length in horse racing is measured in furlongs. A furlong is an ancient unit of measurement used by the Romans thousands of years ago. Today, furlongs are basically only used to measure horse races as a way to keep the tradition, formality and uniqueness of horse racing.

In a racing program, a furlong is abbreviated like this: (f). You’ll see, for example, 6(f) next to the name of the race, letting you know that the race distance is 6 furlong.

How Long is a Furlong?

A furlong in horse racing is equivalent to 220 yards, or 1/8 of a mile. Horse racing furlongs are usually used to measure shorter races that are under one mile, while longer races are typically measured in miles.

Why such a funny word to describe a distance? Well, there actually is some logic behind it. The word furlong is a combination of two old English words – furh, which is short for furrow, and lang which means long. Furrow is the distance that a horse could plow in one day. So, the word furlong changed over time from showing the distance a horse could plow to representing horse racing distances.

How Long Does It Take for a Horse to Run a Furlong in Horse Racing?

On average, a horse can run one furlong in just 12 seconds! That means that a good time for running 6 furlong is 1 minute and 12 seconds. For long distance races – races longer than 1 mile – a horse will run a little slower, completing a furlong in about 14 seconds.

That means that an average race horse will complete a 1 and 1/8-mile race in about 1 minute and 50 seconds and a 1 and ¼ mile race (like the Kentucky Derby) in 2 minutes and 4 seconds.

Common Distances of Different Horse Races

Each year hundreds of thousands of other horse owners, riders, and horse racing fans anxiously await the biggest horse races in the country – the Triple Crown. Watching these majestic animals bolt out of the starting gates and powerfully sprint down the race track is an exciting sight. You can’t help but keep your eyes glued to the screen as the horses race neck and neck towards the finish line.

Understanding some common horse racing distances is essential to better appreciate this unique sport. While there are standard distances for horse races, not all races are the same length. Take the Triple Crown, for example. This event is made up of three separate horse races, and each one is a different length.

a side image view of a jockey riding on their race horseJuvenile Horse Races – Distance: 5 furlong

While there are sprint races that are shorter than 5 furlong, they are less common and harder to find. The 5 furlong race is the most typical short distance race for juvenile horses. Five furlong races are the starting distance at the Breeders’ Cup, another very popular horse race in the US.

These types of races are for juvenile horses that are between two and three years old. Since these races are short, they are great for getting a horse used to the basics of race day and helping build strength and stamina.

A typical race horse can run a 5-furlong race in one minute. The record for the fastest time for a 5 furlong race is held by Stone Of Folca, with a record time of 53.69 seconds in 2012.

Classic Sprint Distance Races – Distance: 6 furlong

The 6 furlong race is another common sprint distance. You might think that after a juvenile horse masters the 5 furlong race, the next step would be a 6 furlong race. But actually, this race distance is more common for adolescent and older horses who drop back to shorter distances during the end of their career.

The Best Pal Stakes, formerly known as the Balboa Stakes, is a popular 6 furlong race that is held every year in Del Mar, California. The record for the fastest 6 furlong race time is 1:06.49 and was set by Twin Sparks in 2009.

Classic Horse Race – Distance: 1 mile

This is the first classic race distance for mature, 3-year-old race horses. Races that are 8 furlongs (or one mile) are longer distance horse races, and a typical race horse can complete this distance in one minute and 50 seconds.

The world record for the fastest time for a 1-mile horse race is held by Mandurah in 2010, who won the race with a time of 1:31.23. What’s interesting is that this record was set on a turf race track. Race horses usually run slower on turf than on dirt, but that didn’t stop Mandurah from breaking the previous world record and winning with an 8 1/2-length lead over the second-place horse.

Long Distance Races – Distance: 1 1/4 mile and 1 1/2  mile

an image of a horse race on a dirt track with a lot of dirt stirred up and the horse and jockey in the far backgroundThe 1 and 1/4 mile race, equivalent to 10 furlongs, is a typical race distance. This is the length of the Kentucky Derby, perhaps the most famous horse race in the US. This race is difficult not just because of its length in horse racing, but also because of the quantity of horses that race together. There can be as many as twenty horses racing down the dirt track towards the finish line!

Races that are longer than 1 and a fourth mile are referred to as marathon races, and they are even more challenging for young race horses. These race distances are for 3-year-old horses, who are basically in the middle of their second year of horse racing. The other two horse races that make up the triple crown, the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness Stakes, are both longer than 10 furlongs. The Preakness Stakes is 1 3/16 miles long and the Belmont Stakes is 1-and-a-half miles long.

The distance alone makes winning these races difficult, but that’s not all. The three Triple Crown races are scheduled all within a little over a month! Race horses have little recovery time before trotting onto the track for the next race. But that’s just part of what makes a Triple Crown winner so impressive.

Secretariat, one of the greatest race horses of all time, still holds the record for the fastest time in all three Triple Crown races. His Triple Crown win in 1973 is one of the most epic and memorable events in horse racing history.

Watch the complete Secretariat movie today on Prime Video.

No matter what the distance, race horses bolt down the dirt track with their competitive spirit and give it their all to be the first to cross the finish line. Their speed, endurance, and beauty as they race around the track make for quite the show.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is a furlong in horse racing?

A furlong is 1/8 of a mile, or 220 yards. Short-distance horse races are usually measured in furlongs, while long-distance horse races are typically measured in miles. An average race horse will take about 1 minute and 12 seconds to run six furlong.

What is a normal length in horse racing?

Length in horse racing can vary because there are many different types of horse races. The shortest distance is reserved for juvenile horses who are 2-3 years old. The standard race distance is five furlongs, or 5/8 of a mile. The classic sprint distance for a horse race is 6 furlong. An intermediate horse race distance is 7 furlong. For mature horses that are three years old, the classic distance is the one-mile race. There are also one-and-a-quarter mile races and one-and-a-half mile races, which are considered long distance horse races.

What are the most popular horse races?

The three most important and most popular horse races in the United States are the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. These three races make up the Triple Crown of horse racing. The Breeders’ Cup World Championships is another popular horse race, along with the Travers Stakes race (also known as the Midsummer Derby).

How long is the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby is a one and a quarter mile long race. This means it is a 10 furlong race, since each furlong has a distance of 1/8 mile. The average time it takes for a horse to race this distance is around 2 minutes. In 1973, Secretariat set the record for the fastest race time in Kentucky Derby history, with a time of 1:59.40. This time has yet to be broken.

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