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Different Types of Race Horses

Types of Race Horses

Thoroughbred racing is often considered the most popular form of horse racing, especially when looking at it from a betting perspective. However, that’s not to disregard the many other forms of this sport that attract interest too.

Examples include harness racing, endurance racing, and quarter horse racing. These types of racing involve horse breeds other than Thoroughbreds.

So, although most people think of Thoroughbreds when they think of horse racing, the following breeds are also involved.

  • Arabians
  • Standardbreds
  • American Quarter Horses

It’s perfectly possible to enjoy betting on horse racing without knowing anything about the actual breeds involved in the sport. In fact, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the majority of horse racing bettors do indeed know very little.

Some knowledge doesn’t hurt though, so on this page we’ve provided some information about the four main breeds used in racing. We’ve covered Thoroughbreds in the most detail, but we cover each of the other three breeds listed above as well.


The biggest races in the world are open only to Thoroughbred horses. There are other forms of racing as we’ve already mentioned, but nothing even comes to close to the glamour, profile and popularity of Thoroughbred racing. Nothing comes close in terms of the betting interest this form of racing attracts either.

The word thoroughbred is actually commonly misused. Any horse that is purebred is often referred to as a thoroughbred, but this isn’t an accurate use of the term. While all Thoroughbreds are purebred, not all purebreds are Thoroughbreds.

A purebred can be defined as any horse that’s bred from two horses of the same breed, whereas a Thoroughbred is a specific breed which was developed in England during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Horse RacingCharacteristics of a Thoroughbred

The characteristics of the Thoroughbred are what make this breed particularly well suited for racing. They are also used in other equestrian sports too, including the following.

  • Eventing
  • Show Jumping
  • Dressage
  • Show Hunting
  • Rodeo
  • Polo

An average Thoroughbred horse is between 15 and 17 hands high (a hand is four inches or approximately 10 centimeters). It has a long neck, a deep chest, long legs and a lean body. It’s a hot-blooded breed, so it can be expected to have a certain spirit and boldness.

For the sake of standardizing race entry requirements based on age groups, Thoroughbred horses have a fixed “birthday.” In the Northern hemisphere they are officially one year older on January 1st, while in the Southern Hemisphere they are one year older on August 1st.

Black Thoroughbred Horse

Thoroughbred horses are known for their strength, speed and athleticism.

Horse RacingHistory of the Thoroughbred Breed

This breed was developed by the crossbreeding of native female horses, known as mares, with male horses, known as stallions, which had been imported from overseas for the specific purpose of breeding racehorses.

Any modern Thoroughbred can be traced back to one of these three stallions; Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian, or Godolphin. These are the three major foundation sires of the Thoroughbred breed.

In the early days of the breed, Thoroughbreds were bred and raced only by a few wealthy individuals in Britain. Over the years, though, horses were exported to other parts of the world and the breed spread.

A worldwide industry has subsequently developed around Thoroughbred breeding, and there are many commercial operations in existence today.

Horse RacingValuing a Thoroughbred

Thoroughbreds are typically sold either at a public auction or by a privately negotiated sale, before then being entrusted to a professional racehorse trainer.

Their value can be influenced by a number of contributing factors, such as age and pedigree. Assuming a horse has been raced, its performance in races will affect its value too.

Thoroughbreds which have successful racing careers are often sold or leased for breeding purposes once they have retired. Their value at this point will be largely determined by just how successful they were.

Consistent winners, and even those that have won just one major race, can be very valuable indeed.

Horse RacingFamous Thoroughbreds

Many Thoroughbreds have become famous to some degree due to their racing careers. However, there are a select few that have really captured the public’s attention for one reason or another. Below we have listed some of the most famous Thoroughbreds of all time.

  • Secretariat
  • American Pharoah
  • Man o’ War
  • Phar Lap
  • Red Rum
  • Nijinsky
  • Makybe Diva
  • Seabiscuit

For more information on these horses, and others too, please see the pages linked below. We’ve compiled lists of the most famous Thoroughbreds from each of the following regions.


The Arabian breed is one of the oldest breeds of horses there is, with evidence of its existence dating back over 4,000 years. Originating on the Arabian Peninsula, the early horses of this breed were used primarily for the purposes of war.

In harsh desert conditions, they were used for both long distance treks to faraway lands and fast invasions of enemy camps. It’s believed that this is when they developed the speed and stamina they are still known for today.

This breed spread around the world through trading. Many of the breed’s characteristics were desirable in horses at the time, so Arabians were often purchased for the purposes of trying to improve other breeds.

For this reason, many other breeds (including Thoroughbreds) have Arabian bloodlines somewhere in their history.

Arabians have several distinguishing features. Their head is typically wedge-shaped with a wide forehead. Their eyes and nostrils are large, while their muzzle is small.

They have a long croup, a high tail carriage, and an arched neck. Their coloring is usually grey, bay, chestnut or black.

Arabian Horses

It’s distinctive features make the Arabian an easily recognizable breed.

As a versatile breed, Arabians compete in several forms of equestrian activity. They dominate endurance riding thanks to their strength and stamina, and are also commonly used for show jumping and associated events.


The Standardbred breed was first developed in North America during the 18th century when trotting races first began to take place with horses in harness. The breed is still best-known for its use in harness racing today.

Standardbred Horses Racing

Standardbred horses are well suited to harness racing, due to their powerful shoulders and hindquarters.

Several types of horses contributed stock to the Standardbred breed. These include Hackneys, Morgans, Thoroughbreds, Canadian Pacers, and Norfolk Trotters. The breed was officially formalized in 1879, when the National Association of Trotting Horse Breeders formed the Standardbred stud book.

Modern day Standardbreds are somewhat more muscular than Thoroughbreds, and they generally have longer bodies. They are considered to be relatively easy to train, and they are very people oriented.

There are two basic types of Standardbreds: trotters and pacers. Although they each have slightly different bloodlines, all Standardbreds can be traced back to Hambletonian 10. He is the founding sire of the modern breed.

In addition to harness racing, the Standardbred has several other uses too, including all of the following.

  • Hunt Seat Riding
  • Pleasure Riding
  • Horse Shows
  • Show Jumping
  • Trail Riding
  • Horse-Drawn Carriages
  • Reining
  • Cattle Work

American Quarter Horses

The American Quarter Horse breed is used for a variety of equestrian activities. Horses of this type can be show horses, race horses, ranch horses, and rodeo competitors. They are also very popular as family horses, particularly in the United Sates. In fact, the American Quarter Horse is the most popular of all horse breeds in this region.

The American Quarter Horse Association
reports over five million registered
horses of this breed.

This breed got its name from being used competitively in quarter horse racing. In this form of racing, races usually take place over distances of a quarter of a mile.

The American Quarter Horse is well suited to them, as this breed is famed for its ability to spring over short distances.

A typical Quarter Horse has a short head, a straight profile, and a muscular body. Its chest is broad, and its hindquarters are rounded and powerful. It stands somewhere between 14 and 16 hands, and comes in nearly all colors. The most common color is sorrel (a brownish red), followed by bay, black, and brown.

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