all in Beginner's Guide

The most famous American races are the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. These stakes are restricted to 3-year-olds, meaning every horse only gets one shot to run in and win these prestigious springtime events.

The Derby, Preakness and Belmont comprise what is known as the Triple Crown. Sweeping the Triple Crown by winning all three races is one of the most difficult feats in sports, having been accomplished only 13 times, most recently by Justify in 2018 after American Pharoah accomplished the feat in 2015 after a 37-year drought.

Once the Triple Crown is run, racing fans turn their attention to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, a two-day extravaganza of important stakes events for Thoroughbreds competing in various divisions according to age, sex, surface (dirt or turf) and distance.

Held in late October or early November, the Breeders’ Cup is the richest day of racing (and the richest sporting event overall) in North America and attracts top horses from around the globe.

The purpose of graded stakes is to provide owners, breeders and fans of Thoroughbred horses a reliable guide to the relative quality of Thoroughbreds by identifying those U.S. races which recent renewals have consistently attracted the highest-quality competition. 

A committee meets annually to evaluate and assess the relative quality of stakes races, and issues its collective opinion in the form of ranked grades: Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3 and Listed, with Grade 1 being the highest.

American racing is primarily conducted on dirt tracks. However, some venues have changed their main surface to a synthetic material that is sometimes perceived as safer for horses as jockeys.

Most top tracks also offer racing on turf, or grass.

Many horses demonstrate an affinity for one surface over another, a trait that often can be forecast based on its pedigree. 

Average height of a racehorse: 16.1 hands at withers (1 hand = 4 inches)

Average weight of a racehorse: 1,000 pounds

Average speed of a racehorse: 40 mph

Colors of horses recognized by The Jockey Club:

Bay Dark Bay/Brown Black Chestnut Gray/Roan White

Click here for Illustrations of coat colors

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