Secretariat was an American thoroughbred racehorse.
So was Man O’ War and Seabiscuit.
Phar Lap is another champion thoroughbred.
End of story.
What’s the point of this list? Thoroughbreds equal racing legends ey? Neigh.
You’ll be surprised to know that the most common horse breeds in racing go beyond a thoroughbred.
In fact, this breed isn’t the most popular nor the fastest.
But we’ll get to that. These 5 most common horse breeds in racing will fascinate both racers and non-racers alike. You’ll be surprised.
How Many Horse Breeds Are There?
The first horses on earth appeared around 56 million years ago, but you’ll never recognize them.
Eohippus were small, stood at 50cm, can’t really run fast.
As with every creature, they evolved.
History 101 will tell you domesticating horses became a turning point.
Before wheels, there were hooves.
Travel, transportation, commerce and wars advanced because of those hooves.
So how many breeds are these since early horses?
There are no agreed figures.
Some equine experts calculate over 1396 listings.
The Horse Encyclopedia by Elwyn Hartely Jones lists over 150 breeds of ancient and modern horses.
Science aficionados from LiveScience estimates it to more than 400 different breeds.
Whereas, the Breeds of Livestock Project by the Oklahoma State University lists 217 separate breeds of horses from A to Z.
What are the Different Types of Horses?
Different breeds for different needs.
Many horse breeds are bred for racing, others as well-loved companions at home. Some equines were born for entertainment. Some have jobs to do from pulling heavy loads to carrying soldiers.
Generally, horses though, fall under these groups:
1. Light Horses
The most common group today. Light horses or saddle horse breeds are versatile and great for farm work, recreation or racing. They are often hot blood in temperament or easily excitable with their high energy.
- American Saddlebred
- Arabian Horse
- Canadian Sports Horse
- Caspian Horse
- Dutch Warmblood
- Iberian Warmblood
- Icelandic Horse
- Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
- Miniature Horse
- Morgan Horse
- National Show Horse
- Norwegian Fjord
- Paint Horse
- Quarter Horse
- Selle Francais
- Swedish Warmblood
- Tennesee Walking Horse
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The heavyweights. They may weigh up to 2000 pounds. With larger bones and sturdier legs, they can pull and carry heavy loads. Since draft horses are cold blood in temperament, they are calm and cool and therefore, patient.
- American Cream Draft
- Belgian or Brabant
- Dutch Draft
- Irish Draft
- Italian Heavy Draft
- North Swedish Horse
- Pinto Draft
- Polish Draft
- Rhenish-German Cold Blood
- Russian Heavy Draft
- Schleswig Holstein
- South German Coldblood
- Soviet Heavy Draft
- Spotted Draft Horse
- Suffolk Horse
- Vladimir Heavy Draft
They are small but incredible at no more than 14 HH (hands high). Ideal for small riders like kids, they are surprisingly more than cute. They are built for hard labor too like pulling loads and carts or compete in equestrian disciplines from jumping to riding.
- Shetland Pony
- Icelandic Pony
- Chincoteague Pony
- Connemara Pony
- Hackney Pony
- Pony of the Americas
- Welsh Pony
4. Gaited Horse Breeds
Gaited horses are breeds are known for their versatile gaits. They can walk, gallop fox trot, pace and control their speed. All in, they make a perfect smooth ride for generals or any respectable figure who deserves to be mounted on a horse.
- American Saddlbred
- Florida Cracker Horse
- Icelandic Horse
- Mangalarga Marchador
- Marwari Horse
- Messara Horse
- Missouri Fox Trotter
- North American Single-Footing Horse
- Paso Fino
- Peruvian Paso
- Racking Horse
- Rocky Mountain Horse
- Spotted Saddle Horse
- Tennessee Walking Horse
5. Free-roaming horses or feral horses
A feral horse isn’t exactly a wild animal but they do roam freely in the wild usually in herds.
- Brumbies in Australia
- Mustangs, the classic wild horse in America
- Misaki horses in Japan
- Garrano and Sorraia in Portugal
- Kaimanawa horses in New Zealand
The Most Common Horse Breeds in Racing
Long before there were any kinds of cups in flat racing, the Greeks and Romans were ruling it. They were racing horses in chariots.
But it wasn’t in the early 17th century that horse racing took off as the Sport of Kings.
Back then, thoroughbreds were reserved for nobilities; kings, queens and royal families in England.
Today, the most common breeds in the billion-dollar racing industry include the Thoroughbred, Arabian, Appaloosa, Paint and Quarter Horse.
Each breed has their own strength, speed and style. Even if you’re not a horse lover, facts about these fascinating fast specimens can get your pulses racing.
If all roads lead to Rome, perhaps all thoroughbreds can be traced from England.
In fact, the lineage of 95% of male racehorses in Britain come from a single stallion alone, the Darley Arabian.
The other two stallions, Byerley Turk and Godolphin Arabian make up the rest.
Thoroughbreds are too hot to handle. Literally, they have hot blood temperament making them excited, energetic and competitive. Not for first-time horse owners.
Their agility and speed are the result of their lean body, long legs, deep chest and powerful hindquarters.
Well-muscled thoroughbreds make fast sprinters. While stayers who endure long distances are slimmer and smaller.
The typical Thoroughbred stands between 15 to 17 hands high. Their predominant colors are often bay or dark bay. But some are brown, chestnut, black or gray.
Weighing from 1,000 to 2000 pounds, they don’t just dominate horse racing they are multi-talented in other equine sports too as horse jumping and dressage.
Thoroughbreds are investments. The average price of a yearling in the US is estimated to be at $89, 259.
In the UK, the average thoroughbred would cost around £23,980.
But the most expensive sale was in 2004. The descendant of Secretariat and Northern Dancer was bought for $16million. The most expensive stallion in the world today is also a thoroughbred, Galileo with a stud fee reaching up to $700,000.
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2. American Quarter Horse
What is the most popular racehorse breed?
As the American Quarter horse, it’s obviously the most popular breed in the US.
Also, the fastest.
One study concludes it’s the swiftest horse among the most common horse breeds.
For sure they are the fastest sprinters. These horses started racing in Virginia and Rhode Islands and ran as fast as 55 mph in a quarter mile.
Hence, the American Quarter Horse name.
They are descendants of imported Spanish, Arabian and English thoroughbreds.
Specifically, from the genes of Janus, the grandson of the infamous thoroughbred Godolphin Arabian.
Today, the American Quarter Horse Association is the largest and most popular breeding registry in the world with over 5 million registered American quarter breeds. Germany comes next with less than 20,000 of that figure.
Muscular, versatile and agile, in the colonial period, they worked during the week and raced on the weekends.
This is something you won’t expect from a smaller horse at 14 to 16 hands.
What makes them popular isn’t because they are powerful sprinters but lovable pets with their warm temperament rooted from their draft horses’ ancestors.
Their common colors are chestnut and sorrel and you’ll see American quarter horses common in rodeos and horse shows too.
In the top 10 most expensive horse breeds in the world, the American quarter ranks fourth with the highest price reaching up to $14,500.
3. Arabian Horse
The breed is considered as the foundation of all modern horse breeds.
It’s an ancient breed dating back 3,500 years ago in the Arabian Peninsula, hence, it might as well be the oldest racehorse breeds in the world.
They are famous in history for their roles in war and trade and if you go back to the ancestors of both thoroughbreds and quarter horses, they trace their lineage from Arabian horse breeds.
For their distinctive head shape, high tail carriage, perfectly solid bone, well-angled hip and well-laid back shoulder, Arabian horses are a beauty to behold.
They commonly come in bay or chestnut with black being the least common color.
Their compact bodies and powerful hindquarters make them fast and strong. Although reaching up to 15 hands high and weighing from 850 to 1,000 pounds, they stand elegantly and excel in sports.
As war desert horses, they can withstand long distance trail competitions in the harshest of weathers.
Above all they are regarded as warm, intelligent and loyal that make powerful racers and great companions.
Beauty has its price. The Arabian horse used to be one the costliest in the list of the most common breeds in horseracing.
In 1968, the top auction price for a top-quality Arabian horse was $25,000.
That went up to $30,000 in 1970.
The highest average price was known to be $478,000 and some say that skyrocketed up to a $1,000,000. But today, the average Arabian horse can sell at $5,000, claims the Equiery.
The Appaloosas are American middle horse runners famous for their spots and speed.
They were bred in the Nez Prenze part of the North America which is known as the Pacific Northwest today.
Horsemen from Nez Prenze were known to be great Indian breeders in the 19th century gelding inferior horses to produce only a supreme bloodline.
The name Appaloosa comes from the Palouse River where they first settled.
Appaloosas are not only quick and agile with their strong muscular legs. They are smart and versatile making them ideal in a multitude of events from horse racing and dressage to show jumping.
But these breeds are not the perfect horse for beginners. These are high-maintenance horses.
Their coat is unique, the only one of its kind in the horse world.
It can appear in five different patterns: blanket, snowflake, leopard, marble and frost.
Moreover, they are the only horses in the most common breeds in racing with vertically striped hooves.
The Nez Perce valued these beautiful horses in transport, war and races.
In both weight and height, they are average. Standing between 14 to 16 hands high and weighing between 950 to 1250 pounds.
The olden Appaloosa is tall and narrow-bodied.
But when European bloodlines were added along with Arabian breeds and quarter horses they now come in a wide range of body types.
Nevertheless, the Appaloosa Horse Club recognizes the breed as a solid horse exceling in 350 yards and 4 furlongs setting. They have set an all-breed record distance of 50 seconds in 4 1’2 furlongs back in 1989.
In the World Appaloosa Sale, the overall average for appaloosas sold was $2,783; the highest bid was $5,500.
Among the most common breeds in racing, the Paint is the most easily recognizable. Their beautiful markings are unique and no two paints are the same in their coats.
Spotted horses date their origins back to the Roman empire with a shared ancestry among thoroughbreds and the American Quarter horse.
Spanish Explorer Hernando Cortes even mentioned the colored horse in his explorations in 1519. No one knows for sure.
A pinto is different from the American Paint horse. There is a strict bloodline requirement.
Because in order to be a “paint” horse, one must have a sire and dam registered in the American Paint Horse Association which is the second largest breed registry in the US.
From riding, racing to roping, these strong, fast and agile beasts stand out on the outside as well on the inside.
The heavily-muscled uniquely colored body is built for speed with their strong hind quarters and deep chest.
Their athletic build stand on the average between 14 to 16 hands high and weighs up to 1200 pounds.
If you think they can’t race with such beauty, think again.
Paint racehorses have beaten great American quarter horses in bush tracks. Due to their speed, Paint Horse racing was officially recognized in 1966.
There have been no known exact figures but the American Paint Horse is reportedly more expensive than the Appaloosa.
It’s all About the Bloodline
Horse breeding is a lucrative industry. Far more than racing.
A champion thoroughbred can earn millions in prize money, but it can make more in a stud.
In the breeding season, superstar stallions work really hard to earn millions; covering up to 100 to 500 mares a year.
Just to perpetuate a winning bloodline.
But just like racing, it can be both a science or an art. At the end of the day, what reigns supreme is chance.
No one knows from where, who or when the next legendary racehorse will come.
Until then, anyone can afford to dream.