To the untrained eye, most horses look essentially the same – but for those in racing, the unique characteristics of each breed determine which are likely to enjoy a possible career as an elite sprinter, stayer or jumper.
Racehorse breeding is worth billions around the world, and these are just some of the most common breeds that these operations tend to prize the most.
The versatility of thoroughbred horses is just one of the reasons why they are used so prominently in National Hunt and Flat racing.
They can be bred and trained as sprinters, one-milers, stayers or steeplechasers, with many able to make the transition from hurdles to jumps and/or step up in trip as they mature.
The thoroughbred was first introduced to the UK in the seventeenth century, with native mares and imported stallions from overseas – typically of Arabian or Turkoman stock – creating a bloodline that is still going strong more than 400 years later.
Thoroughbreds are not considered to be the fastest breed of horse in the world – that honour goes to the American Quarter Horse, however they are better at maintaining their speed over distances of six furlongs and further.
Reaching speeds of up to 44mph, all of the most famous racehorses – from Frankel and Arkle to Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard – are of the thoroughbred breed.
One of the breeds that would ultimately create the thoroughbred bloodline in the UK and Ireland, Arabian horses have also retained their own pure breed too.
They were initially bred centuries ago to be used in conflicts and wars – their speed across the ground ideal for helping to escape advancing foe.
Able to run at high speeds across longer distances, Arabian horses generally reach up t0 40mph – their powerful physique and stamina helping to create the DNA of long distance and steeplechase racing.
The American Quarter Horse, or just Quarter Horse for short, is considered to be the fastest breed of horses on the planet.
The strong horses are able to attain top speed quickly, with some tests measuring a Quarter Horse pounding along the turf at a rapid 55mph.
In days of yore, Quarter Hoses were bred because of their incredible pace over distances of a quarter of a mile – that was the length of track that races were contested in colonial America two centuries ago.
Although not a common breed in UK and Irish racing, the Quarter Horse is popular in its native America – the most famous have enjoyed stellar racing and breeding careers, with First Down Dash’s exploits as a stallion leading to progeny with a combined prize money haul of nearly $90 million (£74 million).
American Paint Horse
The American Paint Horse takes its name from its distinctive look and colouring – while being the general size and shape of a thoroughbred, it features the unique pinto coat colours of white and black/brown spots and patterns.
They have been bred with both thoroughbreds and American Quarter Horses, and this is now considered to be one of the largest bloodlines in North America.
These Paint Horses are more often displayed in equestrian and dressage events than racing, although some horses with the eye-catching look have raced – predominantly in the United States – in the past thanks to their Quarter Horse DNA.
If you’ve ever frequented the horse racing section of a betting website or app, you may have become familiar with harness racing.
This unique discipline utilises both trotting and speed running, and the Standardbred is considered to be the perfect breed – it is thought to be the fastest trotting horse in the world, for example, and can reach speeds of up to 46mph when at full pelt… despite weighing as much as 1,000 lb.
Standardbreds are a descendant of the thoroughbred bloodline, although they are typically smaller in stature than their racing compatriots.