How long is a length in horse racing?
A horse length, or a length in horse racing, is simply a unit of measurement of elapsed time as horses cross the finish line. It’s used to describe the winning margins between horses in races and ultimately measures the sport.
However, although ‘length’ may seem like a simple term, it’s not as easy to measure as you may think and can be used in quite a broad sense. Let’s unpack why!
Is a length a measure of time?
According to the British Horseracing Authority, a length “can vary on the size of the horse and its stride pattern, but in general would be about 8 to 9 feet.” So, unlike most units of measurement, a ‘length’ isn’t fully defined in a concrete manner. Even the governing body of UK horse racing tells us it can vary!
To complicate matters further, a length is a measurement of elapsed time rather than a specific distance between the horses. This makes it trickier to measure in practice.
How does it work?
In the UK, the race judge will calculate the distance between the winning horse and the other horses, going off the time between each crossing the finish line. Then, the time is converted into lengths using the Lengths per Second Scale.
To give an accurate picture of the distances, this scale is altered slightly to match the surface, type of race, and how quick the going is. For example, on a Flat Turf race where the going is ‘good to soft’, the LPS rating will be 5.5. On a National Hunt Turf race where the going is ‘soft or slower’, the LPS rating is reduced to 4.
So, lengths aren’t an exact science, but this system helps provide a level of consistency when it comes to measuring the sport.
Can I use lengths to help pick a winner?
Rating horses based on lengths is quite difficult, so handicappers sometimes struggle to get it right. This is good news for spectators and betters as it means there are opportunities to find horses available at ‘value odds’, i.e., horses available at bigger odds than they should be.
Gamblers can make long-term profits from focusing on these value bets! Remember to take into consideration the distance, the going description, the terrain, and whether the horses are being asked to race up or down hill.
What are the winning distances?
Although a horse can win by [X] number of lengths, races can also be won by smaller margins of less than half a length. For example, a Neck is a distance of less than half a length that is roughly equivalent to the length of a horse’s neck. A Head is (you guessed it!) the rough length of a horse’s head as a winning distance.
Finally, a Nose is the smallest winning distance possible in a horse race and applies when one horse just edges ahead of another at the finish line. This can make for an exciting finish to a race – see for yourself by checking out our horse racing events and calendar for 2022.