Race Horse Breeds

In most cases, entry to horse races is limited to specific breeds. This means that the horse should have a purebred dam (mother) and sire (father) that will qualify for the type of breed that is racing. For instance, in a regular harness race, the racing horse’s dam and sire should both be Standardbreds. However, there is an exception in the case of Quarter Horse racing where an Appendix Quarter Horse can qualify to enter along with other (standard) Quarter Horses. A horse which has either one parent of other qualifying breed or one Quarter Horse parent can be considered as an Appendix Quarter Horse. Other types of horses that fall under this breed are those whose parents are both registered Appendix Quarter Horses, or those whose one parent is an Appendix Quarter Horse and the other is a Quarter Horse.

Horse racing is a big industry and equine breeding has been a custom for so many years. In fact, the breeding industry adopted certain technologies like artificial insemination and embryo transfer into their business. However, it is important to note that these technologies are not allowed in some breeds.

A Breed’s Muscle Structure Determines its Speed

Through the years, race horses have adapted to produce different amounts of muscle fibre fit for racing. Type II-b muscle fibres are the kind that twitch fast and permit the muscles to contract quickly. In turn, the horse gains a great deal of speed and power. Those with more Type II-b muscle fibres are considered the fastest race horse breeds. On the other hand, Type I muscle fibres are the slow-twitch kind, but they help the muscles work for longer periods of time. Hence, horses with this kind of muscles boast greater endurance.

Those in the middle, are horses with type II-a muscle fibres. It goes without saying that they have a balance between slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibres. Hence, their muscles generate both endurance and speed. Thoroughbreds have more Type II-a fibres as compared to Arabian or Quarter Horses. Their muscle fibres allow them to propel themselves forward at incredible speeds. They can also maintain their pace for an extended distance.

Different Breeds of Race Horses

A lot of punters consider Thoroughbred racing as the most popular kind of horse racing. However, there is still a great population of bettors who consider other horse racing formats such as endurance racing, harness racing and Quarter Horse racing. So, even though the first thing that comes to mind when they think of horse racing are Thoroughbreds, the following breeds are still quite popular:

  • Arabian
  • Quarter Horses
  • Standardbreds

A big majority of punters know very little about horse breeds. However, horse racing can be better enjoyed when you know about the breeds involved in the sport. Needless to say, some knowledge about racehorse breeds would not hurt – they may even help you tip the odds in your favour. In this page, we will give you an overview of the four main breeds involved in horse racing. More details about the following breeds can be accessed on their respective pages.


If you are planning to engage in horse race betting, the first type of horse you should know about are Thoroughbreds. This is true because the biggest horse races across the globe are only open to Thoroughbreds. As previously mentioned, there are other forms of horse racing. However, not one of them can come close to the glamour, profile and popularity of Thoroughbred racing. That is why more punters are attracted to bet on this form of racing.

Purebred horses are often referred to as Thoroughbreds. However, this is not the accurate use of the term. It is true that all Thoroughbreds are purebreds, but not all purebreds are Thoroughbreds. If a horse is bred from two horses of the same breed, it is considered as a purebred. On the other hand, Thoroughbred is a specific breed that was developed during the 17th and 18th centuries in England.

This particular breed is ideal for horse racing due to its remarkable characteristics. At an average, Thoroughbreds stand between 15 and 17 hands high. Note that a hand measures four inches or about ten centimetres. The horse is characterised by a deep chest, long neck, long legs and a lean body. Considered a hot-blooded breed, Thoroughbreds are expected to have a certain boldness and spirit.

Arabian Horses

Dating back over 4,000 years ago, Arabian horses are one of the oldest breeds that are still existing. Originally from the Arabian Peninsula, horses from this breed were primarily used for wars. These horses were used for trekking long distances under harsh desert conditions as well as for speedy invasions of enemy camps. Many believe that it was during that this when the Arabian horses were able to develop the speed and stamina that they are known for to this day.

Through trading, Arabian horses spread around the world. Their characteristics made them desirable breeds and they were often purchased for the purpose of attempting to enhance other breeds. This is also the reason why a lot of other breeds – including Thoroughbreds – have Arabian some blood in them.

Arabians can be distinguished by certain features, like a wedge-shaped head, wide forehead, large eyes and nostrils and a small muzzle. Most of them possess a long croup, an arched neck and a high tail carriage. Arabian horses are typically bay, grey, chestnut or black. They are considered as a versatile breed, and they compete in different kinds of equestrian activity. They have the strength and stamina to dominate endurance riding competitions as well as those that require show jumping.

Quarter Horses

Quarter Horses are particularly popular in the United States. They are typically used as show horses, race horses, rodeo competitors, race horses and ranch horses. This breed received its name for mainly competing in Quarter Horse racing. In this racing format, the competition usually takes place over distances of one-fourth or a quarter of a mile. They are ideal for this type of race because they are known to excel at sprinting over short distances.

Typically, a Quarter Horse possesses a straight profile, a short head and a muscular body. It has a broad chest and rounded and powerful hindquarters. Quarter Horses generally stand between 14 to 16 hands and. The most common colours of this breed are brownish red, black, bay and brown.


First developed during the 18th century in North America, Standardbreds are best known for harness racing. Genes from different horse breeds contributed to what is now known as the Standardbred breed. These include Canadian Pacers, Hackneys, Thoroughbreds, Morgans and Norfolk Trotters. In 1879, the breed was officially formalised when the National Association of Trotting Horse Breeders completed the Standardbred stud book.

The Standardbreds that we have come to know are more muscular as compared to Thoroughbreds. Moreover, in general, they possess longer bodies. Breeders consider them as a breed that is relatively easy to train because they are people-oriented. The two basic types of Standardbreds are trotters and pacers.

In general, Standardbreds are ideal for harness racing due to their powerful hindquarters and shoulders. However, they still have several other uses, including cattle work, show jumping, trail riding, pleasure riding and hunt seat riding, among others.

History of Breeding Horses

The types of horses bred depended on the culture of a certain region. Moreover, the horses’ qualities are determined by the uses they were put to, including speedy horses for carrying messengers, ponies for hauling cars of mine ores, packhorses, smooth ambler horses for riding and carriage horses, among many others. One of the earliest documented horse breeding traces back to A.D.1330 in the Middle East. The Bedouin bred Arabian horses, and passed on pedigree information via an oral tradition and eventually through written passages. Another breed with roots from the ancient times is the Akhal-Teke of West-Central Asia which were bred primarily for purposes of war and racing. Mongolian nomads also bred horses for several thousands of years, and up to this day, horse herding is still present in their culture.

The need for horses that serve heavy draught (or draft) tasks continued until the industrial revolution and the invention of automobiles and machines. During and long after this time, the number of draught horses significantly dropped. These animals are now used mainly for ploughing (plowing) and pulling competitions rather than for work on the farm. Draught horses have also been used to outcross with lighter breeds, such as Thoroughbreds, to produce a horse more ideal for sports.

During the Renaissance, horses were not just bred solely for war, but also for haute ecole riding. During that time, these horses were particularly popular among the elite nobility. At the same time, light cavalry horses – which are quicker and faster breeds – were bred for “shoot and run” war tactics.

In 1660, Charles regained the British throne. It was during this time when previously banned horse racing was revived. 40 years later, the Thoroughbred was developed. It was a breed that eventually became the ultimate racehorse. During the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe, there was a bigger need for fine carriage horses which brought the advent of the warmblood breeds. This breed has been known to exceptionally adapt to changing times. From their beginnings as carriage horses, they transitioned into the 1900s as horses fit for sports. Warmbloods still serve for competitive driving purposes, but they more often compete in dressage arenas or show jumping.

To this day, Thoroughbreds continue to dominate the world of horse racing. Moreover, its lines have been used to enhance the lines of warmblood breeds and sports horses.