Finish times are an important part of the sport of horse racing, though it is not only speed, but also how that speed is used across various distances and surfaces that provides a real picture of the race. Within a race, various measures of time indicate whether a horse was slowing down, or kicking into gear.
Longer races produce slower times than shorter races, but additionally, age, track, track conditions and type of surface may all impact race times. Finish times are generally slower on an off track, while some track surfaces may play particularly fast.
The distance of a race is measured in furlongs. One furlong is 1/8 of a mile or 220 yards. Races under 1 mile, such as the common 6 furlongs (6F) distance, are called sprints, mid-distances are generally 8 to 9F, while 1 1/4 miles is deemed the “classic“ distance. Each mile, 8F, is broken down into 4 quarters of 2F each.
Using Curlin’s victory in the 2008 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga as an example, we find that Curlin’s finish of 1:49.34 for the 1 1/8 was slower than the track-record time of 1:46.64 set by Lawyer Ron one year earlier.
In this race, 40-1 longshot, Past the Point, set a fast pace with fractions of 22.89 (time at a 1/4 of a mile), 46.20 (time at 1/2 a mile) and 1:09.6 (time at 3/4 mile). Curlin, racing as many as 6 lengths off the pace, challenged Past the Point at the 1/8 pole, with a mile in 1:35.33 and pulled away through the final furlong. While Curlin came home in a slow 14:01 for the last 1/8 of a mile, he had conserved enough energy to best Past the Point by 1 1/4 lengths.
Good times for various distances, not including consideration of surface, are based on 12 seconds per furlong up to and including 1 mile, and 14 seconds per furlong past 1 mile.
1 1/8 1:50
1 1/4 2.04