Things you will need for this section:

1)      An ability to defy logic

2)      Patience

3)      Imagination


When a horse wins a race the distance he has beaten the second horse by is expressed either in lengths, fractions of a length or some parts of the body (trust me – all will become clearer later). The distance between each subsequent horse (eg second to third, third to fourth etc) is expressed similarly.

A length is the length of a horse. At this point I feel I should acknowledge an unarguable fact: not all racehorses are the same length. I think of this in the same way as human feet; I am a size 10 and my wife is a 6 ½  and neither of us have feet 12 inches long but that is what we all call a foot. You, no doubt, can see where this is going – I am about to inform you that there is an official distance for a length in horse racing. Well, with reservations, I am going to quote the US Daily Racing Form which states that a length of a horse is 8 feet (and please don’t ask how long a Quarter horse is!)

So here’s my problem:  Bay of Freedom won his second race by 8 lengths which translates to 64 feet or 21.3 yards; but that just doesn’t feel right.  That would make his winning distance only 3 foot, 5 inches longer than from the pitching mound to home plate in baseball (or just two feet shorter than between the stumps in cricket). Having watched the video of his win countless times (and again as I write this) if that is 64 feet then it’s a wonder baseball batters don’t have time to spit out a full packet of sunflower seeds while the 90mph pitch is on its way. In a similar vein cricket balls would be bouncing twice before they got to the other end (three times if Kevin Pietersen were bowling). Anyway, this is all a long way of me saying that I am disputing this 8 feet definition (or maybe I am disputing the 8 lengths winning distance)

Why is this important you may ask? Well, everything in horseracing is based around distance and time so any mistake there can be magnified and compounded. For example the next shortest distance after a length is ¾ length, followed by ½ length  I should stop at this point and ask, like in any good IQ test, what is next in this sequence?

If you guessed (although guess would be an insult to the intelligence you demonstrated) 1/4 length then I would do two things:  firstly, congratulate you on your logic and, secondly, laugh out loud at your ignorance.  You would have forgotten the first rule of horseracing: none of the terminology makes any sense!  I have already been forced to explain some terminology and decided that other obscure terms can wait to the Glossary section. I could have a lot of fun asking you for the next set of distances working  down to the shortest but , to spare you any further embarrassment: here is the full list:



¾ length

½ length

Now it gets more esoteric:



Short Head



Winning distances are multiples of lengths (if one length or longer) or the relevant distance above if shorter than a length. Curiously, despite there being no official ¼ length distance it is possible to beat the next horse by 1 ¼ lengths. You, being the expert you now are, could argue, with compelling logic, that it should surely be 1 length and a neck but your argument would be thrown out!