Quarter Horse Racing Guide

The American quarter horse is considered the most popular breed in the United States. It is the largest breed society, with more than 5 million registered quarter horses around the globe. 

Many believe that the quarter horse is the world’s fastest when it comes to short distances, reaching speeds of up to 55 mph.

The quarter horse is not only renowned as a racehorse but also an excellent breed when it comes to horse shows and rodeos, as well as a quality working ranch horse. 

Its compact body is ideally suited for the speedy and intricate maneuvers in barrel racing, working cow horse competitions, cutting, reining, calf roping and a range of other Western riding events. 

The versatility of the quarter horse is also showcased in English driving, disciplines and a variety of equestrian activities.

On this page, we take a closer look at the quarter horse, especially when it comes to racing.

We share information about quarter horse racing, both in the US and Canada, and look at quarter horse racing from an international standpoint.

Next, we look at the most popular quarter horse racing events from around the world. We also discuss the various breeds and the differences between quarter horse racing and thoroughbred racing.

Lastly, we conclude with a brief history of quarter horse racing.

What is quarter horse racing?

Quarter horse racing is immensely popular in the US. 

It initially started in Virginia in 1607, when horse racing was just as popular as it is today. 

However, laying a full-mile track was nearly impossible due to the lack of financial support. Organizing horse racing events were beyond the reach of many. People also were unable to attend horse racing events, as the tracks were often too far away as well.

It eventually led to the creation of a straight quarter-mile track, as opposed to having multiple turns. This design allowed the track to go anywhere, as it was much easier to flatten an environment. 

As you can imagine, this became the standard racing distance, and more tracks became widely available for spectators to attend and to place an assortment of bets on the day.

Once the quarter-mile tracks were constructed, it didn’t take long for horses to be bred for shorter distances.

The new and improved quarter horse, or quarter-miler horses, could outrun the traditional thoroughbred horses. That, in turn, made the quarter horse racing events even more popular. 

Before long, quarter horse racing transformed into a permanent fixture in the US and continues to be a popular form of horse racing.

Organized quarter horse racing initially started during the 1940s. It spread across the US until it was the standard at more than 100 racetracks. 

There are 11 different race distances in quarter horse racing that are officially sanctioned, ranging from 220 yards to 870 yards. 

Quarter horse racing events at a distance of 550 yards or shorter usually take place on a straight course, while a full turn or part of a turn appears in races that are longer than 550 yards, also known as hook races.

The procedures and rules surrounding quarter horse racing are essentially the same as thoroughbred racing. However, you will notice that the timing for quarter horse races is to the nearest 1/100 second.

Quarter horse racing in the US

Quarter horse racing is greatly popular in the US. The sport is available across the country and is featured at some of the most prestigious racetracks in America.

Below, we include a table of the most familiar quarter horse racetracks and quarter horse racing events that are held at these tracks every year.

New MexicoAlbuquerque Downs
Ruidoso Downs
Sunland Park
SunRay Park
Zia Park
All-American Futurity
Rainbow Futurity
Ruidoso Futurity
Bank of America Challenge Championships
Champion of Champions
Albuquerque Fall Championship
Fair Quarter Horse Futurity
TexasLone Star Park
Retama Park
Sam Houston Race Park
Nevill Stakes
Dash for Cash Derby
Dash for Cash Futurity
Refrigerator Stakes
Lone Star Paint $ Appaloosa Futurity
Texas Classic Futurity
LouisianaDelta Downs Racetrack
Evangeline Downs Racetrack
Louisiana Downs
Fair Grounds Race Course
Mardi Gras Futurity
Lassie Futurity
Laddie Futurity
Lee Berwick Futurity
ArizonaTurf Paradise
Rillito Park
Turf Paradise Challenge
Wayne Brasher Memorial
AQRA President’s Open Fall Derby
AQRA Futurity
AQRA Graduation Stakes
Las Gringas Stakes
Desert Classic Futurity
OklahomaRemington Park
Will Rogers Downs
Heritage Place Futurity
Jack Brooks
Mister Lewie Memorial
Grade 1 Leo
PSBA American Paint Classic Futurity
Remington Park Juvenile
Remington Park Futurity
Oklahoma Futurity

Quarter horse racing in Canada

Even though the quarter horse racing selection is not as widespread in Canada as it is in the states, you can enjoy quarter horse racing events in two provinces within the Great White North. 

If the quarter horse racetracks are too far away, fans are more than welcome to watch the races via live stream from the comfort of their homes. 

Below, we include a list of the quarter horse racetracks in Canada and the quarter horse racing events at these racetracks.

AlbertaCentury Mile Racetrack and CasinoAlberta Stallion Stakes
OntarioAjax Downs
Fort Erie Race Track
Alex Picov Memorial
Peace Bridge Stakes
Fort Erie Bank of America Challenge

The first quarter horses

The first quarter horses that were bred in the United States can be traced to the colonial days. 

Early settlers and English thoroughbred horses arrived on the Atlantic coastline, which was then known as the 13 British colonies.

Before long, English thoroughbred horses were crossbred with the horses that were used by the Native American people.

These horses were essentially the offspring of Spanish horses that were brought over to the country by Hernando Cortés, as well as other conquistadors.

The result from the crossbreeding was a horse that impressed with a strong and deep chest along with powerful hindquarters. These horses were also extraordinarily agile but, at the same time, incredibly quick if they had to be. 

Once the westward expansion took place, cowboys discovered that quarter horses had “cow sense.” This meant that quarter horses were perfect for day-to-day ranch duties and cattle drives.

Over time, selective breeding underwent a considerable improvement, which strengthened their overall skills and capabilities. The traits of the American quarter horse were so refined that the entire world started to recognize how vital this breed was and deserved respect. 

To successfully categorize and protect an American quarter horse’s bloodline, a couple of ranchers decided to create the American Quarter Horse Association in 1940.

Thoroughbred racing vs. quarter horse racing

The most significant difference between thoroughbred and quarter racing is the length or distance of the races.

Quarter horses are crowned as the fastest sprinters of the horse racing world, while thoroughbreds the speedrunners over longer distances. 

Arabian horses are geared toward endurance, producing slower speeds but over longer distances.

In a quarter horse race, you will witness speeds of up to 55 mph, while in a thoroughbred race can produce speeds just above 40 mph. 

In a quarter horse race, the distance is measured in yards and usually takes place between 220-870 yards. 

However, the most popular distance in quarter horse racing is 440 yards, the same distance as a quarter of a mile, hence the name of the race. 

Due to the shorter distance that the horses need cover, you will typically see a quarter horse race last between 20-45 seconds, while a thoroughbred race can last between one to two minutes.

Another difference between the two is the start of the clock for the race. 

With quarter horse events, the clock will start immediately after a button is pushed to open the gates. With thoroughbred events, all participating runners are given a running start before the clock begins.

Quarter horse racing history

Essentially, the American quarter horse is descended from crossbreeding between Spanish equines and English origins.

Since 1660, you will also find a significant blood component from thoroughbred horses. Since the late 17th century, American quarter horses were participating in racing events that feature extremely short distances on courses that were situated in Virginia and Rhode Island.

These quarter horses quickly grew in popularity during the 19th century with cowboys from the Wild West. Today, quarter horses can be found on a global scale with more than 5 million registered horses from around the world.

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