Furlong In Horse Racing: What Is It, And Why Is It Used?

If you’ve spent any time watching horse racing or trying to learn it, you’ve probably come across the word “furlong” and wondered what it meant. It’s not a term you might hear outside of the horse racing world; at least, not in the modern era. At one time, the term was widely used. So, what exactly is furlong and why does horse racing use this ancient language? Keep reading to find out.


What is Furlong?

A furlong is simply a unit of measurement, such as feet, inches, miles, yards, or light years. If you haven’t heard someone use the term before, it’s because no one actually does it outside of horse racing, but back then the term was a much more commonly used system of measurement.

One furlong represents a distance of 220 yards or 660 feet. 220 yards equals one-eighth of a mile, so a furlong is one-eighth of a mile, and eight furlongs is a mile.

Where Did Furlong Come From?

Although you rarely hear the term anymore, furlong is actually a very old word used in Ancient Rome to represent the length of a stadium, which is equal to one-eighth of a Roman mile. This is not the same mile the UK uses. In the 14th century, however, the English mile was changed to prevent interfering with existing land surveying practices, and England adopted the Roman system of eight furlongs per mile.

horse racing

Why is Furlong Used in Horse Racing?

Although ancient Rome and England both used furlong, it is rarely heard today. You’ve probably never seen a measurement in furlong unless you’ve been to the United Republic of Myanmar, which is the only unique place in the world that uses furlong measurements on their highway signs. The British still use furlong in reference to their canals, but that’s about it. All of this begs the question; why is furlong used in horse racing? Why not switch to a more common measurement system like yards or miles?

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It may seem silly, but actually, it all comes down to tradition. Horse racing was first formalized with official rules and racetracks in England in the 16th century. At this time, furlongs were used to prepare these early race tracks, and that tradition has endured for many years.

Even so, there were some changes made. In modern horse racing, furlong is only used to describe the length of a race track that is a mile or less. A half mile track is called four miles, but if the track is one and a half miles, it will only be called one and a half miles. Any track longer than one mile is expressed in miles and fractions; only races shorter than a mile use furlongs.

horse shoe divider

Furlong Racing Record

Many horses have competed in furlong races over the years, and along the way, some impressive world records have been set.

One Way Racing Record

The record for the fastest single-distance horse race is set in a race that claims all places. Travel Plan, a Quarter Horse, set a record 11.493 seconds at Los Alamitos Racecourse in 2009. Purebred dogs do not compete in races that are only one distance away.

Two Furlong Race Record

This record was set by Thoroughbred named Drip Brew in 2020. Remember, two furlongs equals a quarter mile, and Drip Brew ran in 19.93 seconds, beating the old record previously set in 2008 of 20.57 seconds by Winning Brew.

Five Furlong Race Record

The fastest time in a five-distance race was just over 55 seconds, set by a Thoroughbred named Chinook Pass in 1982.

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Furlong is a term that is rarely used in the modern era. If you are a big fan of horse racing, it may be helpful for you to understand this term and where it comes from. Remember, only races shorter than a mile will be measured in furlongs. Otherwise, they will be expressed in miles and fractions, which makes them easier to understand. One furlong equals one-eighth of a mile, so eight furlongs equals one mile. Keep in mind that conversion is easy and you will never get confused about race length.

Featured Image Credit: gabriel12, Shutterstock