What Makes a Racehorse Fast? The Different Factors to Look Out For

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One racehorse and jockey surge into the lead.
BetMGM @BETMGM Mar 10, 2022, 10:07 AM

Horse racing is one of the oldest equestrian sports in the world and it has a rich history that’s linked to Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Syria, Egypt and Babylon. While chariot racing is a thing of the past, the focus these days is on thoroughbred horses that are the result of generations of careful breeding to produce the strongest and fastest racehorses. 

Horse racing is extremely popular in the online sports betting market and if you want to be successful – which we’re certain that you do – then you’ll need to understand what makes a racehorse perform at its best. Here we’ll be looking at a variety of factors that contribute to the performance of a racehorse. 

What makes them fast?

When looking at human athletes, their genetic makeup plays a huge role in their performance in their respective disciplines. With racehorses, there are a range of factors that contribute to their speed and each of these is linked to a specific characteristic that translates to how fast they can run. 

Slow-twitch muscle fibers

Slow-twitch muscle fibers are ideal for horse racing as they are more oxygen efficient which helps to increase the horse’s endurance. Compared to sprinty quarter horses, thoroughbreds have almost twice the amount of slow-twitch muscle fibers. This allows them to hit speeds of up to 40 mph on the final stretch of the race. 

Larger hearts

The size of a thoroughbred horse’s heart is almost twice the size of a regular horse’s heart and this is because of a specific gene on the X chromosome. A larger heart means that more blood (and oxygen) is pumped into the muscles, which results in better performance.

Clear respiratory tracts

You shouldn’t bet on a horse with blocked nostrils, because a lack of air will result in poor performance. The more air the horse breathes, the better it performs which is why trainers ensure that the airways of their racehorses are monitored during training. 

Spleen performance

A thoroughbred’s spleen is a vital component to its performance as this organ releases an extra 3.1 gallons of blood that ramps up the cardiovascular output. With an increase in blood oxygen levels, the racehorse can perform at its peak. 

Superior cooling with latherin

To ensure that the racehorse remains cool, a protein that’s unique to horses called latherin foams the hairs and spreads them apart. This allows the horse to cool off much more efficiently.

Common factors relative to performance

Not all factors are linked to the internals of the racehorse and if you bet on horse racing you’ll quickly learn that there are a variety of elements that have a direct effect on performance. For example, NYRA racing guides usually inform prospective bettors about the current standings of jockeys and trainers. 

Below are more factors that can affect the performance of a racehorse. 

Horse’s age

Much like human athletes, horses have a brief period where they hit their prime. This is usually around four-and-a-half-years-old and after that their performance will slowly start to decline. Age is a critical factor in horse racing and horses will usually retire after five years of racing. 

The stride

The horse stride is an important factor to consider when getting involved with NYRA bets as this will have a direct effect on the horse racing odds. A long stride means that the racehorse will have faster times and better movement. To get to that point, the horse owners usually focus on joint health and muscle conditioning. 

Jockey performance

Most experts will agree that the racehorse’s performance is linked to the jockey and this accounts for 10% of the performance. While a jockey can’t do much with a lazy horse, he can help to bring out the best in a great horse. A good jockey can identify the racehorse’s strengths and weaknesses and knows how to play them for the best possible performance on the track.

Track design and quality

The track design and the overall quality of the turf will play a role in how well a horse performs in a race. Some horses are better equipped for longer straights whereas others handle corners very well. Tracks with firm and dry surfaces result in the best times, but a soft and damp surface can add seconds to a lap. 

The best racehorse breeds

The breed of horse is a lot more important to racing than people think and knowing the physical ability and temperament of each breed makes it easier to place educated bets in horse racing tournaments. 


These are the most sought-after and popular racehorses available and they are currently dominating the industry. These horses are known for their speed and powerful bodies, but they’re not ideal for beginners as they’re full of energy and require a firm hand when being handled. 

American Quarter Horse

These are among the fastest horses in the industry with a top speed of 88 mph, but they’re much smaller than Thoroughbreds and don’t do very well in endurance races. As their name suggests, American Quarter Horses were bred for short races taking place over a quarter-mile.

Arabian horses

These horses were commonly used during wars and have spread across the world via trading. Arabian horses have excellent stamina and are great for beginners because of their friendly nature. These horses can be found in movies, parades and a variety of equestrian sports.


Appaloosas were commonly used by Native Americans, but they’re now found all over the world, participating in a variety of sports. This includes roping, reining and O-Mok-See sports such as barrel racing and pole bending. 

Standardbred horses

Standardbred horses are American horses that are usually used for gaited trotting and harness racing. With their powerful builds, these horses are excellent for beginners because of their calm temperament and good behavior. 

Learn more about horse racing with BetMGM

If you’re keen to take part in online horse racing then registering for the BetMGM mobile app or site is a great place to start. Here you can learn more about the sport and various horse racing betting strategies that will help you make educated bets and enjoy the sport. 

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.