How long is a furlong, and how are they used in horse racing?

September 1st, 2021

You may have noticed how horse racing frequently uses the term “furlong,” as in, “six-furlong sprint” or “four-furlong workout.” But what exactly is a furlong?

A furlong is a unit of distance measurement, archaic for the most part, yet still a standard for measuring horse races in the United States and a handful of other countries.

How long is a furlong?

How far must a horse run in order to travel one furlong? Not that far, actually. A furlong is equivalent to 220 yards, 660 feet, or approximately 201.17 meters. But more importantly, a furlong is one-eighth of a mile, which ties it in with the other standard unit used for measuring horse races in the United States.

How are furlongs used in horse racing?

Typically, races less than one mile (sprints) are measured in furlongs: five furlongs, 5 1/2 furlongs, six furlongs, etc. Races one mile or longer (routes) can be measured in miles (1 1/8 miles, 1 1/4 miles, 1 1/2 miles, etc.) or furlongs (nine furlongs, 10 furlongs, 12 furlongs, etc.).

While races can theoretically be held over almost any distance, two furlongs (a quarter-mile) is considered the minimum for Thoroughbreds. On July 27, 2020, Drip Brew clocked the distance in :19.93 to win a starter allowance at Prairie Meadows and break the American record.

How many furlongs are the Breeders’ Cup races?

Since racetracks differ somewhat in size and shape, not all tracks can accommodate all distances. This has an impact on the Breeders’ Cup, U.S. racing’s year-end championship. The distances of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races vary from year to year, depending on where the event is held.

In 2021, the Breeders’ Cup will take place from Nov. 5-6 at Del Mar, with races contested over the following distances:

Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint: five furlongs
Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1): five furlongs
Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1): six furlongs
Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1): seven furlongs
Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1): eight furlongs
Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1): eight furlongs
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf: eight furlongs
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf: eight furlongs
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile: 8 1/2 furlongs
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies: 8 1/2 furlongs
Breeders’ Cup Distaff: nine furlongs
Breeders’ Cup Classic: 10 furlongs
Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf: 11 furlongs
Breeders’ Cup Turf: 12 furlongs

In U.S. racing, 10 furlongs is considered the “classic” distance — an ideal test of speed and stamina. The American record for 10 furlongs on dirt is held by Spectacular Bid, who clocked 1:57 4/5 in the 1980 Charles H. Strub S. (G1) at Santa Anita.

How many furlongs are the Triple Crown races?

The Triple Crown is the most coveted prize in U.S. horse racing. The three historic races for three-year-old Thoroughbreds are held over the course of five weeks in the spring.

The three races and their distances are as follows:

Kentucky Derby (G1): 10 furlongs at Churchill Downs
Preakness S. (G1): 9 1/2 furlongs at Pimlico
Belmont S. (G1): 12 furlongs at Belmont Park

The American record for 12 furlongs on dirt is held by Secretariat, who completed a sweep of the 1973 Triple Crown when he dominated the Belmont S. by 31 lengths. His unprecedented final time of 2:24 remains unmatched, nearly 40 years later.

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