Types of Racehorses

  • Thoroughbreds Horses.
  • Black Thoroughbred Horses.
  • Arabians Horse.
  • Standardbreds.
  • American Quarter Horses.
  • Flat Racing.
  • Jump Racing.

There are many different types of race horses that compete in race events throughout the year. We have put together a list of some of the most common types that you will see.

Racing thoroughbreds is often thought of as the most famous form of horse racing. Especially so when considering it from a gambling perspective. Though, that’s not to say other forms of the sport aren’t attractive to betters, too.

Some examples are endurance racing, quarter horse racing and harness racing. These kinds of racing involve horse breeds that differ from the expected Thoroughbred.

Although for the majority of people Thoroughbreds come to mind when they think about horse racing, the following breeds are also used:

  • American Quarter Horses
  • Arabians
  • Standardbreds

It’s quite possible to enjoy a flutter on horse racing without knowing a thing about the actual breed of horse you’re watching int he sport. Actually, it wouldn’t be a shock if the majority of people betting on horse racing didn’t know the first thing.

A little knowledge can go a long way though, so this article provides some information about the 4 main breeds you see in racing. It covers Thoroughbreds in the most detail, but each of the 3 other breeds will be covered, too.

Let’s begin…


The biggest, best and most famous races are exclusively open to Thoroughbred horses. There are, of course, other versions of racing, as previously mentioned, but nothing compares even remotely to the glitz, profile and celebrity of Thoroughbred racing. Nothing compares or comes close to the level of betting interest this type of race attracts, either.

The word ‘Thoroughbred’ itself is actually often misused. Purebred horses are often referred to as a Thoroughbred, but this is incorrect. All Thoroughbreds are purebred, however, not all purebreds are Thoroughbreds.

A purebred horse can be classified as any horse that has been bred from two horses of the same breed. A Thoroughbred is a specific individual breed developed in England between the 1600 – 1700s.

Thoroughbred Characteristics

Thoroughbred characteristics are what make the breed perfect for racing. They’re using for other equestrian sports, including:

  • Show Jumping
  • Dressage
  • Show Hunting
  • Eventing
  • Rodeo
  • Polo

A typical Thoroughbred horse measures between 15 – 17 hands high (a hand = 4 inches / 10 cm). It should have a long neck, deep chest, lean body and long leads. They are a hot-blooded breed and can be expected to have a common boldness and spirit.

For the sake of standardising the horse racing entry requirements and based on age groups, a Thoroughbred horse will have a given ‘birthday’. In the northern hemisphere, they are all said to be one year older come January 1st. Southern hemisphere horses are one year old come August 1st.

Black Thoroughbred Horses

The Thoroughbred horse breed is best known for its speed, athleticism and strength.

They were developed through the crossbreeding of indigenous female horses, called mares, with the male horses called stallions. The stallions were imported from overseas with the sole purpose of breeding racehorses.

A modern Thoroughbred should be traceable back to one of three stallions: Godolphin, Darley Arabian or Byerley Turk. These are the three main sires that started Thoroughbreds as a breed.

In the younger years of the breed, a Thoroughbred would be raced by only a handful of very rich people in Britain. As the years passed, the horses were exported globally and the breed began to spread.

The global industry subsequently evolved around Thoroughbred racing and breeding, and many commercial operations exist today.

Valuing a Thoroughbred

You can typically see a Thoroughbred being sold at either public auction or a privately organised sale. After the purchase, they’re entrusted only to an experienced horserace trainer.

The value of a Thoroughbred can be impacted by a few contributing factors, like age and pedigree. This is assuming a horse has had a race previously, but their performance in races affect the value too.

Thoroughbreds having had a successful racing career will likely be sold (or leased) for breeding once they’re retired. The value at this point in their lives will be purely down to how successful they were.

Those winners who were consistent and those that have won a single major race can be hugely valuable.

Famous Thoroughbreds

A lot of Thoroughbred horses have found fame, to a degree, thanks to their racing success. There have been a few that have really captured the hearts of the public, for various reasons. Here’s a list of the most famous Thoroughbreds throughout history:

  • Seabiscuit
  • Secretariat
  • American Pharoah
  • Nijinsky
  • Phar Lap
  • Man o’ War
  • Red Rum
  • Makybe Diva


This breed is one of the oldest breeds of horse in history. There’s evidence that dates back over 4000 years that proves their existence. They originate in the Arabian Peninsula and the earlier variations of this horse were used primarily as workers during war.

In the harshest desert conditions, they were designed for long-distance trekking to lands far far away and invading enemy camps. It’s thought this is how they developed the stamina and speed they are known for today.

The Arabian breed spread globally via trading. Lots of the characteristics of the breed were desirable for horses at the time so the Arabians often bought them for the purpose of improving other race horse types.

This is the reason that many other breeds of race horses, including Thoroughbreds, may have an Arabian bloodline in their family history.

Arabians tend to have a few distinguishable features. The head is usually wedge-shaped and they have wide foreheads. The eyes and nostrils are large whereas the muzzle is small.

They tend to have an arched neck, a long coup and a high tail carriage. Typical colours are black, grey, bay or chestnut.

The distinctive features of the Arabian horses make them easily recognised as a breed. They’re versatile, too. Arabians can and do complete in varying forms of equestrian activity. They master endurance riding with thanks to the aforementioned stamina and strength and are often used in show jumping and associated occasions.


Standardbred horses were developed in North America in the 1700s. Trotting races started taking place here, using a horse in a harness. This breed is still well-known today for use in harness racing. Most likely because of their incredibly strong shoulders and hindquarters.

A few breeds of race horses got into the mix when developing Standardbred horses. They included Norfolk Trotters, Canadian Pacers, Thoroughbreds, Morgans and National Hackneys. The breed itself was formally classified in 1879 by the National Association of Trotting Horse Breeders who formed the Standardised Studbook.

Today’s Standardbreds are more muscular than Thoroughbreds. They tend to have longer bodies. They’re thought of as being easy to train and are very warm toward people.

You see two types of Standardbred, a pacer and a trotter. They both have marginally different bloodlines. All Standardbreds should be traceable back to Hambletonian 10, who was the founding father, so to speak, of this modern breed.

Additionally, to harness racing, this breed has other many uses.


  • Cattle Work
  • Hunt Seat Riding
  • Show Jumping
  • Reining
  • Horse Shows
  • Pleasure Riding
  • Trail Riding
  • Horse-Drawn Carriages

American Quarter Horses

The American Quarter Horse breed is found in many equestrian activities. This breed can be a racehorse, show horse, rodeo horse or ranch horse. They’re very popular family horses, too, especially so in the US. The American Quarter Horse is actually the most popular breed of horse in that region.

The American Quarter Horse Association reported more than 5m registered horses of this breed.

It goes its name from its use in competitive quarter horse racing. In this type of racing, the race typically takes place over a distance of a quarter of a mile.

The American Quarter Horse is well suited to this type of race as it’s able to spring over short distances easily.

Typically, a  Quarter Horse will have a short head and straight profile. It’s muscular with a broad chest and the hindquarters are rounded and strong. It will stand between 14 – 16 hands and comes in a multitude of colours. The most typical colour is sorrel (brownish-red), followed by black, brown and bay.


As you can see, there are quite a few different types of race horses. They each have their own unique characteristics and strengths when it comes to horse racing.