We know that if we’re all being honest with ourselves, we’re really only at the viewing party or putting down for pricey tickets to the actual event at Churchill Downs for the mint juleps, big hats and mingling. It’s not anyone’s fault. When the event that gathers so many people together is over in the blink of an eye, it’s hard to make it the main attraction. But why is the actual race over so quickly, anyway? How fast do Kentucky Derby horses run?
If you’re unfamiliar with the race, we’re barely exaggerating about the length. On average, the race takes roughly two minutes from start to the winner crossing the finish line. For the jockeys and racehorse owners, those few minutes can mean a pretty hefty payout. (We already broke down how much the Kentucky Derby winner gets — as well as the jockey riding the winning horse.) So, if it’s taking the horses around two minutes to run 10 furlongs, the distance run in the Kentucky Derby, then how fast are they going exactly?
Wait, what is a furlong?
No, it’s not a measurement of hair length. It’s a largely outdated unit of measurement that’s equivalent to one eighth of a mile. So there are eight furlongs in a mile. In that case, how many miles is the Kentucky Derby? The race would be about 1.25 miles long. And, as a reminder, they make it this far in around 122 seconds.
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So, how fast do Kentucky Derby horses run?
So if the race is just two-minutes long, how fast do Kentucky Derby horses run, exactly? Well, assuming conditions at Churchill Downs make it a “fast track,” meaning the track is “completely dry and at optimal efficiency,” the average time is around 122 seconds. In fact, every Kentucky Derby winner has completed the race in under 125 seconds with these “fast” track conditions since all the way back in 1939, according to Quartz. Working with the 122 seconds measurement, that puts the average speed of a Kentucky Derby racehorse at around 37 miles per hour (36.89 miles per hour to be more precise).
Data: Churchill Downs; Chart: Quartz
In the race’s history, only two horses have completed the race in under two minutes: Secretariat (1973) in 1:59.40 and Monarchos (2001) in 1:59.97. That puts their speeds closer to 38 miles per hour at roughly 37.82 miles per hour.