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    Popular Horse Breeds Utilised in Racing
Popular Horse Breeds Utilised in Racing
Thoroughbred horse. Source: Equine World Uk

Popular Horse Breeds Utilised in Racing

Frequent viewers of horse racing in the UK, whether it be on flat tracks or over obstacles, are accustomed to witnessing a single breed dominating the sport: the thoroughbred. Although thoroughbred racing enjoys immense worldwide popularity, it's important to note that it's not the sole form of horse racing. In different regions, various breeds have been organised to participate in racing, and the following are the top five breeds that are widely favoured for racing across the world.


The modern thoroughbred breed, which we are familiar with and cherish today, was carefully developed over a long period, starting in the 1600s in England.

To create this breed, native English mares were crossed with specific breeds from the East, namely the Arabian, Barb, and Turkoman breeds.

A fascinating aspect of thoroughbred racing and the breed, in general, is that all existing horses of this type can be traced back to only three imported stallions: the Byerley Turk, brought to England in the 1680s; the Darley Arabian, which arrived in 1704; and the Godolphin Arabian, which came in 1729.

Due to this historical significance, Sheikh Mohammed's ownership operation is named Godolphin, and their horses run in the famous blue silks, while the breeding arm of the organisation is called Darley, as a tribute to the breed itself.

In the late 1700s, the breed started to spread worldwide, with thoroughbreds being brought to North America, Australia, Europe, Japan, and eventually South America.

Thoroughbreds were recognised as ideal for racing because they are warm-blooded horses that consistently perform at their highest level. They are essentially the fastest and most enduring horses in the world, which is why they are prominently featured in the most prestigious races and events, including the Triple Crown, Breeders' Cup, Grand National, Cheltenham Festival, The Derby, Royal Ascot, the Melbourne Cup, and many others.

While thoroughbred racing now includes the National Hunt, the sport originated in flat racing, which has been in existence since at least 1174 in England. Alongside the development of the thoroughbred breed, a form of handicapping has been practised since around the 1620s, where weight is added to equalise the chances of competing horses.


The horses utilised for harness racing, known as standardbreds or commonly referred to as 'trotters' or 'pacers,' possess distinct characteristics.  Standardbred horses are an American breed that participates in trotting or pace events within the context of harness racing. 

Instead of jockeys, they are guided by drivers and pull a two-wheeled cart called a 'sulky' through a harness. These horses are known for their muscular build, elongated bodies, and greater weight compared to thoroughbreds. Although their development originated in North America, standardbred horses have expanded their influence to various regions worldwide, with their earliest bloodlines tracing back to 18th-century England. While harness racing is particularly popular in many parts of the USA, it also enjoys prominence in Europe and Australia.

Arabian horse. Source: Savvy Horsewoman
Arabian horse. Source: Savvy Horsewoman


Originating predictably from the Arabian Peninsula, this particular breed is utilised in certain regions for competitive racing. While compared to thoroughbred it possesses noticeable physical distinctions.

Arabian horses exhibit significantly higher intelligence different to thoroughbreds and are also remarkably spirited. In terms of size, they are smaller than thoroughbreds and possess a more defined bone structure, a shorter neck with an arched shape, and a tendency to hold their tails at a higher position.

While Arabian horses may not excel in covering long distances or possess the same level of speed as thoroughbreds, they continue to be a favoured breed for racing in the United Arab Emirates and some parts of Europe.

In certain British thoroughbred racing events, an Arab race is conducted before the main races and wagers can be placed on it.

Quarter Horse

This breed, commonly known as American Quarter Horses, is primarily used for racing short distances. The name of the breed originates from its exceptional ability to outpace other breeds in races spanning a quarter of a mile or less. Quarter horses can reach speeds of up to 55 mph, surpassing the top speed of thoroughbreds, which is 40 mph or more.

Quarter horses have been bred in North America since the 1600s. Despite the greater popularity and higher prize money in thoroughbred races, quarter horses remain the most numerous breed in the country, with approximately 3 million registered with the American Quarter Horse Association annually.

In addition to racing, quarter horses showcase their abilities in various equine shows and rodeos. They are also commonly utilised as working ranch horses.

Characterised by their impressive appearance, quarter horses possess a short head and a muscular body with a broad, powerful chest and rounded hindquarters. These physical attributes make them well-suited for sprint races.

Paint horses. Source: The Spruce Pets
Paint horses. Source: The Spruce Pets

Paint Horse

A different type of horse originating from the United States, paint horses were created by crossing spotted horses with quarter horses and thoroughbreds. Paint horses display wide patterns of black and white spots on their coat.

Regarding their involvement in sports, paint horses are commonly utilised in show jumping, hunt seats, and a variety of other equestrian competitions.

It is highly improbable to witness a paint horse participating in races alongside thoroughbreds, standardbreds, or any other horse breeds mentioned in this compilation.


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