Interesting Facts about Thoroughbreds

seabiscuit running a thoroughbred race
Photo credit: Smithsonian Magazine

Thoroughbreds have many exceptional features that make them popular among various horse breeds worldwide. Their Arabic and Turkish lineage have gifted them with athletic features and strong will. Thoroughbreds have made a fortune for their owners by winning countless Breeders Cup races, which is why they are primarily bred and sold for racing. But despite being good at racing, they are capable of more greatness.

Let's find some fantastic facts about thoroughbreds that you did not know before!

Speed: The Second Name for Thoroughbreds

Speed and endurance are the specialties of Thoroughbreds. Thoroughbreds are considered the fastest horse breeds after the American Quarter horse. The American Quarter Horse is the fastest horse, but only for a quarter of a mile!

These horses are proficient at winning long-distance races and can run up to the speed of 35 mph. Winning Brew is the fastest thoroughbred known in horse racing. This filly made Guinness World Record history by running two furlongs and reaching the end at just under 44 mph.

After Winning Brew, Secretariat took the title by crossing the finish line at the speed of 40 mph at Belmont Stakes. Below is a photo of Secretariat running the Belmont.

thoroughbred secretariat racing in the Belmont stakes
Photo credit:

Record Breaking Lineage

Thoroughbreds have made history in the annual Breeders' Cup Championship races. These Grade I races have seen legendary racers like Man O' War, Secretariat, Exterminator, Synsonby, and more, who are still remembered today. Native Dancer and Man O' War had only lost one race throughout their careers.

Looking back at the ancestral lineage of thoroughbreds will lead back to three sire stallions brought to England in the late 18 century. These sires were Darley Arabian, Byerley Turk, and the Godolphin Arabian. The Royals Mares were the foundation mares, and together they created remarkable racehorses.

Line breeding is the most popular choice for thoroughbred breeders. Line breeding involves breeding distant relatives to each other to encourage desirable traits. That's why ninety percent of the present racehorses have the same ancestors.

Some of the non-sterile, race-winning, horses become studs and can earn owners a fortune with it. The studs are bred live cover (horses must be live cover, no artificial insemination, to be considered a true thoroughbred) to many dams in one breeding season. Top winning racehorses have unbelievably high stud fees. Northern Dancer received up to 1 million dollars as his stud fee, whereas American Pharaoh took $200,000 dollars for his first sire year. The price increase depends upon the level and achievements of the horse.

Thoroughbred horse is tall and muscular
Photo credit: Thoroughbred Review

Thoroughbreds went through an evolution

The tall, muscular and arched horses you love and admire today were not always like this. Thoroughbreds have evolved since the 18th century. The modern thoroughbreds stand at the height of 15-17 hands with muscular backs and arched necks.

Everything developed and transitioned into this successful modern horse species, from their teeth to hooves.

  • Thoroughbreds Have 'Big Hearts' Quite Literally - The secret behind thoroughbred's swift speed and agility is their big hearts. It has been noted that among other horse breeds, thoroughbreds are known to have a heart size larger than average horse hearts. Having large hearts and lungs gives them the benefit of racing at high speed with full intensity. They can keep the air for a long time which helps them with maintaining high speed. In horse racing history, record-breaking horses like Secretariat had a great 22-pound heart, and the iconic Phar Lap had a heart weighing 14 pounds.

  • Beauty and Brains! Besides being expeditious and strong-willed horses, thoroughbreds are on the list of brilliant horses. The sensitive side of their personality makes them inclined toward their owners to form a bond. Expressions, touch, emotions, and names are some elements they understand well and show adequate response.

  • Unique Physical Traits - From ears to eyes, horses possess unique and quirky features. Thoroughbreds can move their ears up to 180 degrees by the use of 10 muscles present in their ears. They have heightened smell and can make out what's in front of them through scent. Due to wide spacing between their eyes, horses have almost 360 degree vision. However, they can't see right below their noses or directly in front of them. Did you know horses can sleep on their feet? With the help of tendons and ligaments, they can find a position of comfort and can rest for longer times without falling.

Thoroughbreds have one birthday!

Are you worried about forgetting the birth dates of your many horses? Well, how about January 1 as the official birth date of all your horses? Convenient. The concept behind the same birth date is to give maximum time to the horses to begin their racing career. The new year's date is also convenient for keeping track of the horse's age.

thoroughbred foals with mare

Before 1858, August 1 was the official birthday for all horses, but after the British changed it to January 1, there was a divide in the country. Countries in the northern hemisphere adapted to the new birth date, whereas the countries of the south, like Australia, continued following the last birthdate.

Hot Blooded with Quick Reflexes

There are two ways to identify the nature of the horse. They can either be hot blooded, warm blooded or cold blooded. Identifying nature helps the trainer work with the horse's limits and temperament.

Thoroughbreds lie in the category of hot blooded. Hot blooded horses have Arab and middle eastern origins, which means they can bear hot temperatures moderately well and have a more energetic temperament. Thoroughbreds have super quick reflexes and can act on a reaction in less than 0.3 seconds. They excel at racing competitions and eventing.

thoroughbred race horses at the starting gate

Think Hard Before You Name a Thoroughbred

If you think keeping a racehorse is troublesome, wait till you find out about the naming requirements. Your racehorse can not have a random meaningless name. A naming committee for racehorses, called the Jockey Club, decides if the name is fit or unfit for the horse.

There are seventeen rules which should be considered when opting for a name. Forget naming your horse after legendary horse names like Secretariat and Pharaoh, as these names can not be repeated within the same country as per the rulebook of the Jockey Club. The racehorse owners should provide a minimum of six names with proper punctuation and spaces at the time of submission. Foreign and self-created names should be presented with adequate translation.

Racing Career of Thoroughbreds is Often Short-Lived

Race horses, like the thoroughbreds, undergo rigorous training as soon as they turn one to appear in high grades competitions such as Triple Crown races. Although, horse owners highly seek after thoroughbreds to enter the business of horse racing. According to the statistics, only half of the total racehorses participating have a chance at winning a race.

So their racing career can end in a relatively short period of time due to poor performance, age or injury. Race horses are thought to reach past their prime when they turn 4.

thoroughbred used in a dressage show

When their racing career ends, thoroughbreds are gradually introduced to different equine sports like showjumping, dressage, barrel racing, and much more. They are then referred to as off the track thoroughbreds or OTTB for short.

As the lifespan of horses is about 25-30 years, they spend the rest of their lives as an OTTB performing in multiple disciplines. There are many other equine sports out there that fits the thoroughbreds physique as well. They also make fantastic trail horses and are often bought by horse owners for personal use.

Thoroughbreds transition to these sports reasonably well due to their previous rigorous training and discipline. Some horses are so good at these sports that they can make another career!

Final Thoughts