What is a Furlong in Horse Racing?

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A marker with the number 1 on it to indicate 1 furlong.
BetMGM @BETMGM Jan 31, 2023, 1:20 AM

If you’re new to online sports betting, you’re bound to come across a bunch of specialist words, especially when it comes to horse racing. One of the questions first-time fans ask most frequently relates to horse racing distances. Specifically, what is a furlong? 

This archaic term is a key item of horse racing terminology. Understanding it will provide you with invaluable insight into how the sport actually works and help you place smarter NYRA bets as a result. Let’s break down what this unique term means in horse racing betting.

How far exactly is a furlong?

Simply stated, a furlong is a measure of distance used in horse racing. One furlong equals 220 yards (660 feet) and there are eight furlongs to a mile. As a result, races shorter than a mile are measured in furlongs. A half-mile race, for instance, will be listed as ”four furlongs” in your online sportsbook. 

For races longer than a mile, the excess distance is often measured in fractions of a mile instead of furlongs, so a race will be listed as “a mile and quarter” rather than a mile and four furlongs. That said, longer races can also be measured in furlongs (a mile and quarter race would be 12 furlongs.) Jockeys can keep track of distance by looking at the numbered furlong posts along the track. These count down from the start and show how many furlongs are left to run in any given race.

Where does the word “furlong” come from?

The word “furlong” is a lot older than horse racing as we know it today. In fact, it goes back as far as the ninth century, when “furh” was Old English for “furrow.” The word referred to the length of a furrow in a plowed acre of farmland. This was standardized in 1300 to a distance of 220 yards. The term gradually fell into disuse until the furlong was completely discontinued as an official measurement in the UK in 1985. 

Today, there are only two places where furlongs are still referred to. One is in horse racing circles and the other is on highway signs in the Asian country of Myanmar! For most fans of horse racing betting, the most important distance is the final furlong as the racehorses sprint to the finish.

How many furlongs is the race?

Online sportsbooks typically list three types of horse races: Sprints, intermediate and classic races. The standard race distance is five furlongs (5/8 of a mile), the classic sprint distance is 6 furlongs and an intermediate distance is 7 furlongs. The average racehorse should take approximately 1 minute and 12 seconds to run a distance of 6 furlongs. 

Two furlongs (a quarter mile) is widely considered to be the minimum distance for thoroughbreds to race, while 10 furlongs is a “classic” length that puts the horses’ speed and stamina to the ultimate test. When you’re learning how to read horse racing odds, it’s always a good idea to take the length of the race into consideration.

How many furlongs are the Triple Crown races?

The most coveted prize in US horse racing, the Triple Crown consists of three historic races for thoroughbred 3-year-olds held over five weeks in spring. These are the Kentucky Derby (run over 10 furlongs at the Churchill Downs racetrack), the Preakness Stakes (run over 9 1/2 furlongs at Pimlico) and the Belmont Stakes (run over 12 furlongs at Belmont Park). 

The records for all three of these races have remained unbroken since 1973, when the legendary Secretariat swept the Triple Crown. His Belmont Stakes finishing time of 2:24 is also the as-yet unmatched US record for 12 furlongs on dirt. With the new racing legislation changes, it’s possible that Secretariat’s record will never be broken.

The world’s fastest furlongs

The record for the fastest 1-furlong race is held by Travel Plan, a quarter-horse that ran the distance in 11:493 seconds at California’s Los Alamitos Racecourse in 2009.

The record for 2 furlongs belongs to Drip Brew, a thoroughbred who took only 19.93 seconds to cross the line at Prairie Meadows, IA, in 2020.

Remington Park, OK, is where Eclat set the record for 3 furlongs, coming in at 31.01 seconds in 2005.

Fair Meadows, another Oklahoma track, was the setting for the world record for 4 furlongs in 2012, set by Oklahoma Natural with a time of 43.20 seconds.

Coming in with the record for 5 furlongs is Chinook Pass, with a time of 55.⅕ seconds was all it took Chinook Pass to claim the world record for 5 furlongs at Longacres Track, WA, in 1982. The track has since closed, but the record remains unbroken!

In 2009, Twin Sparks ran the fastest 6 furlongs in horse racing history at Turf Paradise Track, AZ, with a scorching 1:06.49.

The world record for 7 furlongs belongs to two thoroughbreds, Rich Cream and Time to Explode. They both won with a time of 1:19.⅖ at Hollywood Park, CA, in 1980 and 1982, respectively.

Converting furlongs to miles

Still struggling to think in terms of furlongs instead of miles? Here’s a handy list of common horse race distances:

  • 1 furlong: 1/8 miles
  • 2 furlongs: 1/4 miles
  • 4 furlongs: 1/2 miles
  • 5 furlongs: 5/8 miles
  • 5.5 furlongs: 11/16 miles
  • 6 furlongs: 3/4 miles
  • 6.5 furlongs: 13/16 miles
  • 7 furlongs: 7/8 miles
  • 7.5 furlongs: 15/16 miles
  • 8 furlongs: 1 mile

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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.