In this article, you will learn more about the use of quarter horses as racehorses in horse racing, including the history, famous racehorses, and famous racetracks.
Quarter Horses Introduction – The History of the Breed
The American Quarter horse breed originated during the 17th century in North America as a result of the cross-breeding between imported English Thoroughbreds and certain Native American horse breeds such as the Chickasaw ponies. It is typically muscular and ranges in height from about 14 to 17 hands. It is considered a very strong breed with strong hindquarters. In comparison to the thoroughbred, which is a bit more slim and agile, the American Quarter horse is a breed that appears a bit more stocky. However, that stocky build is pure muscle. This muscular build makes the American Quarter horse capable of sprinting at fast speeds right out of the gate after starting at a stand-still.
Quarter horses received their name based from racing from the distance that they classically excelled at in racing; a quarter mile. These traditionally short, stocky horses are strong and muscular. They are also arguably the fastest horses in the world. Quarter horses are fantastic sprinters. It has been reported that this breed can reach racing speeds of up to 55 miles an hour, or, sprint a quarter-mile in under 21 seconds.
They grew in popularity when flat racing became more popular among the American colonists. Compared to the longer racetracks that were more traditional in England for horse racing, the use of shorter racetracks allowed the American Quarter horse to show its capabilities to exceed as a racehorse breed for sprinting.
In 1940, the first organization to register American Quarter horses was formed and named the American Quarterhorse Association. In later years, two other organizations were born that both focused on registering quarter horses and racing. Eventually, those two were absorbed by the American Quarterhorse Association (“AQHA”). AQHA is the official and primary organization for the registration of American Quarter horses today. It is located in Amarillo, Texas. As stated on its official website homepage, it is also the largest equine breed registry and membership organization in the world.
Arguably the most popular horse breed in today’s equine world, the American Quarter horse is still famous for its use as a racehorse and continues to be used in horse racing for sprinting on shorter racetracks. This breed is also a strong performer in rodeos, horse shows, and as working ranch horses. With all of its capabilities and broad appeal, the American Quarter horse breed has grown to become the most popular breed in North America and perhaps the world.
In horse racing the quarter horse is also one of the two main breeds used as racehorses; the other horse breed being the thoroughbred horse, which are typically run for longer distances than the quarter horse sprinters.
Famous Quarter Horses in Horse Racing
The quarter horse grew in popularity during the early days among colonists with its sprinting abilities in horse racing. It has stayed true to its beginnings and there are many famous quarter horses that have emerged throughout the years.
A great resource on the history of famous sirelines in quarter horses is available on Ontario Racing at this webpage. Given that this breed originated with a cross-over involving thoroughbred horses, it is natural to expect thoroughbreds in the family tree so to speak. One of the more famous quarter horse sirelines, or the dominant sireline according to Ontario Racing, is the one through First Down Dash (1984). This quarter horse racehorse was one of horse racing’s prized stallions.
Another quarter horse notable in horse racing has garnered more income than its racing name would otherwise suggest. Considered one of the top modern-day quarter horse racehorses, meet Refrigerator. Do not let the name fool you. This horse brought in about $2 million in the early 1990s.
Racetracks and the Quarter Horse
Racetracks for quarter horse racing were not as glamorous or as planned as what you can expect in today’s races. According to Britannica, when quarter horse racing began in Virginia in the early 17th century, the traditional quarter-mile racetrack was simply whatever pathway was available. This could include creating one by cutting down trees in a forest and later, by using some streets.
In fact, when the horse racing of quarter horses began in 1607 in Virginia, around the establishment of the town of Jamestown, it grew in popularity in part because of the shorter, more accessible and more affordable race track. While horse racing was popular among the colonists that immigrated from England, there were money and effort constraints to lay out the mile-long track that was typically used in England in horse racing with the thoroughbred horse as racehorses. While some tracks were made, they were too far out for many to reach them. This greatly limited the ability of horse racing enthusiasts to continue to follow their favorite sport. As such, the straightaway track with a length of about a quarter mile found its beginning. This allowed more flexibility in the ability to build a track, both financially and at closer locations since it was shorter than the more organized one mile long tracks that had been used for thoroughbred horses in horse racing, and, closer locations also provided accessibility for those that wanted to view or bet on this sport.
Horse racing using quarter horses as racehorses began to become more organized and structured in the 1940s. Since that time, the number of racetracks used to race the quarter horse breed has grown to about 100. Most of these racetracks are located in the Western part of North America. As reported by Britannica, there are about 11 officially sanctioned racetrack lengths for racing the quarter horse in horse racing. These range from 220 yards to 870 yards.
Quarter horses excel at shorter, sprint type distances as they are arguably faster right out of the gate from a complete standstill as compared to the thoroughbred horse breed racehorses. In horse racing, given that this breed excels at sprinting, the racetracks are shorter when compared to the thoroughbred horse racing tracks. Racing is measured in yards. According to the AQHA, quarter horses are typically used in horse racing to sprint at a distance of between 220 to 770 yards. However, some sources state that they are commonly used to run straightaway tracks at a distance of 100 to 440 yards, with the occasional longer races of 550 to 1000 yards that may include turns, which are sometimes referred to as the “hook” races. For races under 550 yards, the race event takes place on a straightaway track.
One thing that sources appear to agree on is that the classic distance of 440 yards, or a quarter-mile, from which this breed got its name, is still used in horse racing with the quarter horses as racehorses.
In comparison at this time to the horse racing that was popular in England and that used thoroughbred horses as racehorses, the traditional flat racetracks that were used in England at the time of North American colonization were much longer. Today in horse racing, the thoroughbreds continue to be used to run at longer distances than the quarter horse. Thoroughbred horses in horse racing are typically raced for distances of three-quarters of a mile to two miles.
While the distance that quarter horses run is shorter than the thoroughbred race length, the same tracks may sometimes be used for racing both quarter horses and thoroughbred horses. It may be a separate event or part of the same one as the thoroughbred horse racing. There are also shorter racetracks specifically designed to cater to the length of the standard quarter horse race with a short sprint on a straightaway track. Turns are not commonly used in the horse racing of quarter horses given the shorter distance that quarter horses usually run as racehorses, and so tracks of only short straightaways can accommodate this type of horse racing event. The longer tracks that have turns which are used to race thoroughbred horses can be used as well. However, given that the quarter horse racing can use the racetracks that are used for thoroughbred horses while thoroughbred horses are usually run for distances that include a turn, quarter horses used in horse racing have more options for tracks than their thoroughbred counterpart.
Need More Information on Racetracks?
AQHA also has a fantastic list of each track at this webpage. This page lists the tracks, their location and a link to the track’s official webpage. Usually at the webpage, one can find specific location information, race dates and sometimes even view exactly what the racetrack looks like from Google Maps. What is especially great with checking out these websites though is that you truly get to dive in and see all the track and surrounding area has to offer. If perhaps there is a horse racing enthusiast in a family that is planning a family trip, but the rest of the family is not especially interested in horse racing, then this will serve as a great resource to not only gain more information on quarter horse racing tracks, but also the extent of the focus of these tracks. Some are just horse racing tracks. Others have a lot more activities to offer. It truly depends on who is attending to choose the race. Also, the location will play a big role as will a following of any particular horse, which is rather common in the horse racing world.
Additionally, for the latest news in racing quarter horses, as well as charts, upcoming races, race leaders, and racing previews, AQHA is a great source to dig in more on what is coming up next and which quarter horses are leading the way as racehorses in horse racing. Specifically, one can check out this webpage for all things racing related for the quarter horse.
Quarter horses Today and Horse Racing
Quarter horses continue to be strong sprinters in the world of horse racing. They have truly stayed true to their historic background, continuing to excel in the classic quarter mile sprint. As traditionally fantastic sprinters, they can still give a thoroughbred horse racing horse a run for its money – very literally. Granted, it is now custom to have quarter horses run in certain matches or sprints against other quarter horses, while thoroughbred horses run in the longer, and sometimes more popular (e.g., Kentucky Derby), races against other thoroughbred horses.
Both breeds are holding strong in their respective areas. The quarter horse is still the sprinter and known for starting strong right out of the gate. The timing of its speed in horse racing events reflects this. Whereas the timing during a thoroughbred horse race has the clock start ticking after a few seconds from the time the horses leave the gates, in the quarter horse racing world, the clock starts ticking immediately. Otherwise, the rules for racing quarter horses and thoroughbred horses tend to be about the same. Albeit, they are run in different lengths for horse racing, with the quarter horse excelling at the quarter mile and shorter distances that hover around that length, while the thoroughbred horse is used in horse racing for longer distances. While the distances are different and there is a bit of a variation in the timing component, specifically in when the timing begins, the rules for racing either horse in North America are very similar.
Also, as mentioned above, the same tracks may sometimes be used for both, just at different times since typically quarter horses are raced in one event while thoroughbred horses are raced in others. Both tend to be used as racehorses against other racehorses sharing the same breed. This is also a requirement for some types of races and part of why registry organizations are especially important in the horse racing world.
Where exactly does the quarter horse fare in today’s horse racing world?
The quarter horse continues to excel and prove itself and its breed as a force to be reckoned with by achieving high speeds from a standstill and reaching high speeds during its typically quarter-mile long, give or take some yards for other variations of racing this breed, sprint-length run on a usually straightaway track in today’s horse racing world.
If you are interested in catching up on exactly when the next quarter horse races will be held during in 2018, the AQHA has a full list of the dates and tracks available here. This is the list of quarter horse races in the United States for 2018. To see a list of quarter horse races by date and track located in Canada and Mexico during the year 2018, visit this site.
Not to be outdone by its thoroughbred horse relative, the quarter horse also has a triple crown series of events in horse racing. The triple crown for quarter horse racing includes three events, which are all held at Ruidoso Downs New Mexico; the Kansas Futurity in June, the Rainbow Futurity in July, and, finally, the All-American Futurity, which takes place each September on Labor Day. For more information on the track that the quarter horse triple crown is held at each year, visit its official website here.
The American Quarter Horse
The American Quarter Horse began with crossing an English thoroughbred with Native American horse breeds. While the thoroughbred was the traditional racehorse and may be the more well-known type of breed for horse racing, its relative, the American Quarter Horse, is still proving itself as a force to be reckoned with in horse racing on tracks that are of shorter distances. This breed, with its strong and muscular build, continues to show the horse racing world how fast it can run a sprint.