Table of Contents
If you are new to horse racing or even a seasoned pro, understanding the way horse racing distances are shown can be quite confusing.
Metric units might be commonly used in day-to-day life, however on the racecourse, imperial units like furlongs are king!
What is a furlong in horse racing?
A furlong is a traditional imperial unit of length which is equal to 220 yards or 660 feet or 201.17 metres or 1/8 mile. It is commonly used as a measurement in British, Irish and American horseracing.
Furlong to Mile to Metre Table
Where does the name furlong come from?
Dating back from around the ninth century during the Anglo-Saxon times, two Old English words were joined together, furh (furrow) and lang (long). These words were used to determine the length of a furrow of an acre of a ploughed field.
It wasn’t until the 14th Century when the furlong unit of measurement became standardised and has been used in the British imperial system up until the mid-1980’s.
Fast forward to the 21st Century, the imperial measurement furlong is generally only used in horse racing.
What does the Final Furlong mean?
The Final Furlong is a common phrase used by horse racing commentators that describes the final stretch of the race up to the finishing post.
How many furlongs in a mile?
There are eight furlongs in a mile.
1 mile or 8 furlongs or 80 chains or 1760 yards or 5280 feet or 1609.34 metres.
Will racetracks adopt metric measurements?
Horse racing has been using imperial measurements for hundreds of years, it is a sport which has tradition embedded in its DNA. Trials have taken place to display metric units but changing completely from Imperial to Metric will not happen in the near distant future.
Also, imperial and metric measurements do not exactly align, having a signpost saying 1 furlong or 201.17 metres does not look quite right. (During an earlier trial, the signposts just said 200m).
When betting on horse racing, a bookmaker might offer the option of betting on the winning distance of a specific horse in that race. Ensure you read the market rules and terms & conditions, but the following rules below are generally practised across most bookmakers.
If distances are under a length, the following distances count: Nose will be 0.05 of a length, Short head will be 0.1 of a length, head will be 0.2 of a length, neck will be 0.3 of a length, half a length will be 0.5 of a length, three-quarters of a length will be 0.75 of a length.
The maximum winning distance for a Flat race is set at 12 lengths while for a National Hunt race it is 30 lengths.
There are more rules to this market, however they are best confirmed with the bookmaker you are using.
How do bookmakers abbreviate lengths?
- Nose is shortened to nse.
- Short Head is shortened to sh.
- Head is shortened to hd
- Short Neck or is shortened to snk.
- Neck is shortened to nk.
- Half a Length is shortened to ½ L
- Three-quarters Length is shortened to ¾ L
- One Length is shortened to 1L
- Distance is shortened to dst.
Length bonus offers for betting from bookmakers
Bookmakers often have online betting promotions where you can get a bonus bet or your money back if your horse loses by a head or length.
Understanding the difference between the lengths is handy to know when claiming your free bets!
You will not need to get a ruler out on your TV as all the lengths are measured by the broadcaster for you and announced with the official race results.
Online bookmakers also display odds in fractions, however if you feel inclined you can change the settings to display in decimal format. We have a fraction to decimal guide to follow or an article on the odds used in horse racing.
Also, we have an article on how bookmakers create odds for betting markets.
Grand National Race distance
The Grand National is a handicap steeplechase competed over an official distance of around 4 miles and 2½ furlongs (4 miles 514 yards (6.907 km), at Aintree Racecourse.
Before you place a bet on the Grand National, have a look at the best online bookmakers.
Further reading , betting guide.