On Friday, one of theÂ biggest but little-known weekends in racing will begin: The Bank of America Challenge Championships.
The Challenge Championships is to American Quarter Horses what the Breedersâ€™ Cup is to Thoroughbreds – sort of. Horses will be running a number of prestigious races they have had to qualify for by winning regional races throughout the country this year.Â The Challenge will offer more than $5 million in purse money this weekend alone.
I admit, Iâ€™m actually partial to the Challenge since Quarter Horses are my familyâ€™s business but this is probably a good time to explain some of the differences between the two breeds of racing.Â
There are a number of differences between running the Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses but I think it is best explained by thinking of Quarter Horses as the sprinters whereas Thoroughbreds are the distance runners.
Quarter Horses actually take the title of the â€œfastestâ€ horse in the world as they can (and do) reach speeds of nearly 50 mph.
The average distance for an American Quarter Horse race is about 350 yards but it can vary from a 100 yards to 850 yards. Many times Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds will be racing at the same track during the same season or when a track hosts a â€œmixed meetâ€ During a mixed meet, Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds sometimes run against one another in an 850-yard race, and those can be interesting, if not fun for bragging rights.
At such short distances, Quarter Horse races time out between 17 and 18 seconds. In less than a minute, years of work, money, and hope can pay ofâ€¦or not. There is no time for Quarter Horses to be closers, they have to be out in front with a clear path from the start or be ready to fight for the lead with everything they have.
This yearâ€™s Bank of America Challenge will be held at the Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans. First post is 5 p.m. Friday. All 13 races will be shown live nationally on HRTV, and this yearâ€™s show will be hosted by Gary Stevens and Jon White. Stevens is a hall-of-fame jockey who often does the Kentucky Derby show andÂ also starred in Seabiscuit. Stevens and his brother Scott (who still rides at Canterbury in the Twin Cities) got started riding Quarter Horses.