How Fast Must A Horse Run To Win A Race?

I feel the need the need for speed

Remember that line from Top Gun? A great line from a great film. Ok, maybe not so great a film but still a great line.

But does it work for horse racing? Does the fastest horse always win?
The answer simply is no. It does not always work and no the fastest horse does not always win.

But why? If a horse is faster than the other horses in the race, should it not automatically be the best horse in the race? Once again no. The reason lies in tactics and the need for some horses to lie up behind horses. To be covered up. I'm sure you have heard race commentators saying this time and time again.

This is a requirement of all too many horses. Remember horses are herd animals and their instinct is to run with the herd. It is often apparent that a horse performs best when it is covered up during a race. Once it is exposed it runs green or expends a huge amount of nervous energy which causes the animal to under perform and lose the race.

Another disadvantage of having a horse that requires to be covered up is that the pace of the race can be slow, especially in small fields, which allows less talented competitors to be in with a chance in the final furlong. When a race develops into a sprint in the last couple of furlongs, a lot depends on the gaps coming at the right time and so it is not always the fastest horse that wins the race but the horse who can quicken the best off the slow pace and/or the horse that gets the first run.

You have to understand that there is a major difference between a horse who can cover 5 furlongs the fastest and a horse who can quicken appreciably in the last couple of furlongs off a slow pace.

On the one hand you have a horse who can maintain a very fast pace but who may not have the ability to change gears and accelerate at the end of a race. (If you can find a horse who can do this pay special attention as you will have found a real money spinner.)

On the other hand you have a horse who cannot maintain a very fast pace but who can change gears and accelerate at the end of slow run race. This allows a slower horse to win in tactically run slow races. Any race with six or less runners runs the risk of being tactical. Look for a front runner who has clocked a fast time or who has the proven ability to quicken appreciably at the end of a race. You will most likely be looking at the winner as he will be able to dictate the pace and when he quickens at the end of the race he will be difficult to catch.

But what about big field handicaps

Things change in favour of the fast horse when he is faced with big field handicaps. The pace is usually frenetic which allows the horse with the high cruising speed to lay up with the pace and because they are already going a strong pace he/she does not have to quicken all that much to reach top speed. The only other factors to take into consideration here are weight and ground conditions. The weight a horse has to carry in relation to the weight carried by the other horses in the race is a crucial factor, as weight in a fast run race becomes a greater issue and a few pounds wrong here or there can be the difference between winning and losing.

The ground conditions also have a major bearing on a horses ability to run at its fastest pace. Quick ground favours top of the ground horses and naturally enough it is while the ground is quick that the fastest times are clocked while soft ground favours horses with better stamina but the times clocked will be much slower.

Keep track of horses who clock fast times and note the ground conditions and field sizes that they are made in. Make up an excel file and make a list of the top 100 horses for the following ground conditions.

1. Gd to Firm

2. Good

3. Gd to Soft

4. Soft

and break each ground condition into two field sizes 10 runners or less and 10 runners plus. This will help you to make better judgment calls when working out the probable winner of any race.

You can get the speed figures directly from the Racing Post website or you can buy them privately. A very good source of accurate and reasonably priced speed figures can be bought at

Alternatively you can make your speed ratings. I won't get into how to go about that in this article. I will save that for another time.

Understanding how fast a horse runs especially on UK tracks where the variations make it incredibly difficult to get to grips with the true facts, can be very rewarding financially when you get it right. Take the time to get to grips with speed and tactical variations that come with field size and horse types. It will be worth it.