Quarter Horse Racing

The American Quarter Horse was originally bred for sprinting short distances – usually anything up to a quarter mile - but this breed has also been found to make a good working horse on cattle ranches and to be a superior show horse in rodeo events, such as barrel racing, where its exceptional agility and bouts of speed enable excellent performances. It is widely believed to be one of the world’s fastest short distance horses and has been clocked at 55 mph. With such an amazing capability for speed, it is not surprising that quarter horse racing is such a popular sporting activity in the United States.

Clocking distances as fast as 55 mph, the quarter horse is believed to be one of the fastest short-distance horses in the world. Because of this capability, it is not surprising that quarter horse racing has become a popular sport in the U.S. In fact, quarter horse racing has long been popular among U.S. horse enthusiasts. The sporting event started in Virginia, briefly after Jamestown was established in 1607.

Although horse racing was popular at the time, the money and effort needed to lay out a full mile track meant that organized racing was beyond the capability of many racing enthusiasts. Also, people had a difficult time reaching the tracks that had been established. This dilemma resulted in a compromise – a straight quarter-mile track of 400 meters could frequently be flattened in different venues, thus creating a standard racing distance. As a result of this compromise, tracks became plentiful, and anyone could compete in a quarter horse racing event or attend races and bet.

Soon, breeders and owners bred quarter horses to run the short distances, causing the quarter horse to out run the traditional thoroughbred. Before long, quarter horse race became a permanent feature in horse racing in the U.S.

American Quarter Horse Features

You can easily distinguish the American Quarter Horse, as it features a small, yet refined head, with a strong and incredibly well-muscled body. The horse displays a broad chest and powerful hindquarters, and spans from 14 to 17 hands in height. A stock type quarter horse, as the name suggests, looks stockier than the racing type, which is more smoothly muscled and tall. The quarter horse used for racing is generally slimmer in appearance and frequently conveys a thoroughbred appearance.

Yet, this type of horse retains the stamina, power, and speed that catapults it to the front in a quarter horse event. Quarter horse races typically take place over short distances of 220 to 870 yards. At these distances, the quarter horse can surpass a thoroughbred, whose unique physique enables it to compete in longer racing events.

History of the Quarter Horse Breed

The lineage of the American Quarter Horse can be traced back to colonial times when English thoroughbred horses and settlers arrived in the original thirteen colonies along the Atlantic seaboard. During the period, settlers cross-bred their English horses with the agile horses used by Native Americans. The Native American’s horses were descendants of the Spanish horses brought by Cortez and his conquistadors to the New World. The result was a horse that revealed a deep and strong chest and powerful hindquarters – agile, yet remarkably quick, when needed.

When the westward expansion began in the U.S., cowboys discovered that quarter horses had what they termed “cow sense,” which enabled the horses to serve in cattle drives or in daily ranch activities. On weekends, cowboys often raced the horses over flat stretches of land or on dirt roads.

Over time, selective breeding practices strengthened the traits of the quarter horse, making the American Quarter Horse a recognized breed – worthy and respected worldwide. To protect this classification and recognize the bloodline, ranchers established the American Quarter Horse Association  (AQHA) in 1940.

The rules set by the AQHA allow some flow between quarter horses and thoroughbreds, which enables the bloodlines to receive beneficial infusions of thoroughbred genes. This keeps the quarter horse free from inbred disease. Today, quarter horses represent the workhorses associated with rodeo events, ranches, and riding schools, and the preferred horse in prestigious racing events, such as the All-American Futurity.

Quarter Horse Racing Today

Organized quarter horse racing events began during the 1940s in the U.S. Most of the events were held on tracks in the West, and numbered around 100. Sanctioned races today include 11 events that feature distances of 220 to 870 yards, or 201 to 796 meters.

Quarter horse races of 550 yards are less generally are on a straight course. However, one turn, or part of a turn, may be used in a longer “hook” racing event. The rules and processes basically are the same for quarter horse races as they are for thoroughbred races. However, the timing is to the nearest one one-hundredth second from a standing start.

The Triple Crown of American Quarter Horse racing comprises the Ruidoso Futurity, normally held in June, the Rainbow Futurity, usually scheduled in July, and the All-American Futurity, which traditionally is held on Labor Day in September. All the events are held at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico.

The 2020 All-American Futurity Winner

The winner of the 2020 All-American Futurity was Whistle Stop Café, who finished with a time of :21.437 – a neck ahead of the race favorite Instygator. With this win, Whistle Stop Café took home $1.26 million of a $3 million purse. A $2 win ticket on the horse paid $9.80. The grey filly, rode by jockey, Ricky Ramirez, also won the 2020 Rainbow Futurity,

Quarter horses, known for their quick starts and ability to sprint quickly, always produce close contests, and many with photo finishes. The breed credits Janus, a thoroughbred stallion, and native mares, for its introduction into the U.S. The AQHA Triple Crown has only been won once – by Special Effort in 1981.

Besides the All-American Futurity, the All-American Derby Triple Crown represents the last leg of Derby events, and is run on Labor Day weekend in Ruidoso, New Mexico. Run the day before Labor Day over 440 yards, the All-American Derby gives the winner an invitation to the Grade 1 Champion of Champions event at Los Alamitos Race Course in Southern California. The other two races of the Derby Triple Crown event include the Ruidoso Derby and Rainbow Derby, held earlier in the year.

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