How do you know if a horse is training fast or slow? How do you know after a race whether the horse who won actually beat a bunch of bums or beat some good competition in good time? A horse racing bettor, known as a handicapper, looks at something called fractions to figure this whole thing out. Fractions in horse racing are the amount of time it takes horses to reach certain milestones within a race or during a period of training, also known as breezing.
Fractions in Workouts
The average standard time for thoroughbreds to run a quarter of a mile is 24 seconds if they are allowed to run at their natural galloping speed. In horse racing, they also measure distance by furlongs. There are 8 furlongs in a mile. So that then equates to a standard furlong being 12 seconds from a speed perspective. If you see a horse work four furlongs in under :48 seconds, that is considered fast.
Horses usually only work from three to six furlongs, so a horse's natural stamina can usually carry them on the 12-second path. I once saw some champion sprinters run a 1/2 mile in under :44 seconds. Now that is moving!
Fractions in One Turn Racing
Fractions are posted in increments. Races around a single turn are usually timed out for fractions for a quarter mile, half mile, and then whatever is left for the race. Anything faster than 23 seconds for the first quarter mile is considered fast.
Some horses, especially on the turf, can run :21 for two furlongs and :43 seconds for half a mile. Common times for a 6-furlong finish range from 1:08-1:12. Sub 1:08 is fast.
Fractions in Two Turn Racing
Races around two turns clock timing for the quarter mile, half mile, three quarters of a mile, mile, and then the final fractions after that. Standard times for those are :24, :48, 1:12, and for the mile, 1:36-1:42. Stamina becomes an issue for horses around the mile distance. Some are bred to go longer distances, but others fall right around a mile where they give it their all.
Things to note on the Fractions
What kind of track are the horses running on?
Horses run faster on grass, called the turf course. It's their natural running surface. Horses sometimes switch from running on the dirt to running on the turf, and it's important to note as you may think a horse is super fast or super slow but could be switching surfaces or training on a different surface.
What was the weather/surface like?
Was the track wet when the horse was training or running in a race? Sloppy dirt tracks and soft turf courses lead to slower times. Jockeys have to make sure they are running at a safe speed to make sure they aren't endangering their horse when conditions aren't perfect.
Is a speed horse cutting back in distance?
Horse owners and trainers like to try and stretch their horses out, as usually, the bigger money is at the championship distances over a mile. Some horses just can't run that long for that fast. If you have a horse that has shown speed in longer races and is in the lead at six furlongs but fades and doesn't finish in a fast time, say at a mile or longer, and they are then running in a six-furlong race, maybe this should spark your interest.
What tracks were the horses running at?
Some tracks just play faster than others, it seems. Maybe it's a different kind of grass, or maybe their dirt has more or less sand or something in it. Churchill Downs, Emerald Downs, and Gulfstream Park just seem to have super fast tracks. Be aware of where everyone is running and how those tracks play from a speed perspective.