Those regularly watching horse racing in the UK, whether on the flat or over the jumps, will be used to seeing just the one specific breed on the track – the thoroughbred.
While thoroughbred racing is by far the most popular in the world, it’s not the only type of horse racing with a number of different breeds organised into racing in various territories.
These are the five most popular breeds used for racing around the globe.
The thoroughbred breed we know and love today was developed over many years, beginning with its effective inception back in the 1600’s in England.
To develop the breed, native English mares were crossbred with specific breeds from the East, namely the Arabian, Barb and Turkoman breeds.
One fascinating fact within thoroughbred racing and the breed in general is that all horses of this type in existence today can have their pedigrees traced back to just three imported stallions; the Byerley Turk which was brought to England in the 1680’s, the Darley Arabian which came in 1704 and the Godolphin Arabian which arrived in 1729.
Given the history involved, this is why you will see that Sheikh Mohammed’s ownership operation is called Godolphin, their horses running in the famous blue silks, while the breeding arm of the organisation is called Darley as homage to the breed itself.
Later in the 1700’s the breed began to spread around the world, thoroughbreds being brought to North America and then Australia, Europe, Japan and eventually South America.
Thoroughbreds were thought to be ideal for racing, being warm-blooded horses who perform at their optimum level consistently. Thoroughbreds therefore are essentially the quickest and most stamina-laden horses in the world with all of the biggest meetings featuring the breed.
Major events such as the Triple Crown, Breeders’ Cup, Grand National, Cheltenham Festival, The Derby, Royal Ascot, the Melbourne Cup and many more are all thoroughbred races and meetings.
While thoroughbred racing has developed and now includes the National Hunt, flat racing is where the sport takes its roots having existed since at least 1174 in England. Coinciding with the advent of the thoroughbred, a form of handicapping has been in existence since around the 1620’s with weight being added to even the chances of those competing.
Originating unsurprisingly in the Arabian Peninsula, this breed is used in certain territories for racing but is noticeably different in appearance to the thoroughbred.
Arabian horses are appreciably more intelligent than thoroughbreds and also very spritely. Smaller than thoroughbreds, Arab horses have a more chiselled bone structure, a shorter, arched neck and they carry their tails higher.
Arabian horses would not see out a distance as well as a thoroughbred, nor are they as fast, but they remain a popular racing breed in and around the UAE as well as in parts of Europe.
On some British thoroughbred race cards, an Arab race will take place beforehand and can be bet on.
Also known because of their origins as American Quarter Horses, this breed is one used to race only over short, sprint distances.
The name of the breed in fact stems from this horse’s ability to outpace other breeds over distances of a quarter of a mile or less. Quarter horses have been known to reach 55 mph versus thoroughbred’s top speed of 40 mph+.
Quarter horses have developed in North America since the 1600’s, in fact despite the popularity and higher prize money in thoroughbred races, quarter horses remain the largest breed in terms of numbers in the country with around 3 million registered with the American Quarter Horse Association every year.
As well as racing on the track, quarter horses show their talents off in various equine shows and rodeos, while they are also used as working ranch horses.
A wonderful looking breed, quarter horses have a short head, very muscular body with a broad chest with powerful, rounded quarters making them ideal for sprint races.
The horses you’ll find being used for harness racing, standardbreds are also often called ‘trotters’ or ‘pacers’. Standardbred horses tend to be muscular, have longer bodies and are actually heavier than thoroughbreds.
Much like quarter horses, standardbreds are an American breed and perform in trotting or pace events as part of harness racing, the horses pulling a ‘sulky’, a two-wheeled cart attached by a harness and steered by a ‘driver’ rather than a jockey.
Though developed in North America, standardbred horses have reached many territories around the world and in fact trace their earliest bloodlines to England in the 1700’s.
Harness racing as a sport has taken a particular hold in many parts of the USA, though it also features in Europe and Australia too.
Another American breed, paint horses are a breed developed originally from crossing spotted horses with quarter horses and thoroughbreds.
Paint horses have broad pinto spotted patterns, white and black in colour.
In terms of sport, paint horses are used in show jumping, hunt seat, as well as a few other equestrian events.
You are unlikely to see a paint horse racing in the same was as a thoroughbred, standardbred, or any of the others on this list.