How do we determine the fastest horse in the world?
In the vast sport of horse racing, there have been many incredible equines that have amazed the world with their ability and drive to win against all odds.
Stories like Secretariat and Seabiscuit remind us that any creature aligned with its natural talent and unbreakable spirit can overcome a slew of adversity.
When it comes to determining greatness, society doesn’t only revere the record-breaking accomplishment, but also the story behind it.
In horse racing, there have been many such extraordinary steeds. Today we’re showcasing the fastest horses, as well as the legacy that the fastest horse in the world has left behind.
Most of the horse world is familiar with the Triple Crown events: the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes, and the Preakness. But none of the fastest horse speeds have been recorded at any of these races.
The Guinness World Records indicate that the fastest speed ever clocked on a racetrack was by Winning Brew at the Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pennsylvania, USA on May 14th, 2008.
Winning Brew was a two-year-old filly at the time, and clocked this record-breaking speed of 43.97 mph (70.76 km/h) quarter mile, for a total race time of 20.57 seconds.
The fastest speed clocked at a full mile-and-a-half long race was the three-year-old Hawkster at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California, USA on 14 October 1989 at 60.86 km/h (37.82 mph).
Official races aside, the American Quarter Horse, derived from a cross between Thoroughbreds and the horse of the Chickasaw Indians, has been known to reach up to 55 mph in speed (88.51 km/h).
The record-holding quarter horse at the quarter mile is A Long Goodbye, who completed the race in 20.686 seconds.
In endurance races, horses must maintain a steady speed for 100 miles (160 kilometers). Riders will often choose Arabian horses to complete these races, both for their speed and fortitude. While the horse’s speed is not nearly as high during the race, the stamina required over such a long distance is more than noteworthy.
The record-holding horse for the 100-mile race is Jayhal Shazal, an 11-year-old gray Arabian who broke the record on March 20, 2010. Jayhal Shazal completed the race in 5 hours, 45 minutes, and 44 seconds, knocking the previous record of 6:21:12 out of the park. This remarkable gelding averaged 17 mph during the ride, but averaged 22 mph in the final loop of the race.
Of course, we’d be remiss to not mention the underdog-turned-legend, Secretariat. Born big-boned, goofy and clumsy, Secretariat went on to not only sweep up the first Triple Crown win in 25 years, but also to smash all the record times for each race. To this day, he still holds the all-time records for the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes, and the Preakness.
For more breeds that are known for being quick and agile, check out the Top 5 Fastest Breeds of Horses.
The Fastest Horse in the World
With all these different measurements of achievement, who can we say is the fastest horse in the world? Depending on who you ask, the fastest horse title ranges from the horse with the highest clocked speed, to noteworthy races, to the list of horses with undefeated racing records.
But perhaps there is a greater horse who merits the title. Maybe the fastest horse in the world, rather, is the one who has made the greatest impact on the horse racing world throughout history.
The eliteness of the Thoroughbred in horse racing is widely accepted in the competitive equestrian world. While there were three sires and many mares involved in the foundation of all Thoroughbred horse breeding, 95% of all Thoroughbreds have been linked back to one sire, the Darley Arabian.
Chosen from countless excellent studs to create this elite breed, the Darley Arabian stands out as the most influential horse in all of racehorse breeding.
The Life and Legacy of the Darley Arabian
The Darley Arabian’s story began at the turn of the 18th century in Aleppo, Syria. He was foaled amongst the herds of the Fedan Bedouins, and was given the name Manica.
His name was a reference to one of the purest strains of Arabian bloodlines, the Muniqui Arabian, which was renowned in the region for its speed.
Thomas Darley, a local merchant and British Consul in the region, took a special interest in the stunning colt, then owned by Sheikh Mirza II. Darley arranged to purchase him from Sheikh Mirza II for 300 golden sovereigns.
After the colt was not delivered to him as arranged, Darley found out that the Sheikh had gone back on his word, too pained to part with his finest colt.
Thomas Darley’s connections in the region were able to smuggle the Arabian colt out of Syria and into the UK in 1704. Since his fellow Yorkshiremen were unfamiliar with foreign horses, Darley went to great lengths to convince them that his prized Arabian was worth breeding.
Though he did not cover many mares, the Darley Arabian went on to produce a number of great racehorses, including Flying Childers and Almanzor, who were outstanding champions in the early years of the Thoroughbred breed.
The Darley Arabian’s genes were so exceptional that breeders continued to favor his bloodlines (intentionally and unintentionally) through today’s racehorses. Now, more than three hundred years after his birth, the Darley Arabian remains the single most influential racehorse in the course of history.
Legacy Beyond a Lifetime
So, how do we define greatness? Was it Winning Brew, who clocked the highest speed in a horse race? Or was it Seabiscuit, who holds the record for all three events of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred racing?
Or would we, rather, say that the fastest horse in the world is the one who is the heartbeat of the entire Thoroughbred breed? The Darley Arabian’s legacy is woven throughout nearly all the best racehorses, from the many undefeated champions to our favorite legends, including Seabiscuit and Man O’ War.
All the greats of horse racing carry echoes of this one horse who started it all. That’s why we like to refer to him as, truly, the fastest horse in the world.