What is a furlong in horse racing?

By Captain Thomsen on 23 Aug 2021

One Furlong sign at Aintree Racecourse

The term furlong is used as a unit of distance in horse racing in the United Kingdom and Ireland, alongside miles and yards.

The word furlong can cause some confusion as it is no longer widely used outside of British and Irish racing, with other countries typically using meters or simply miles and fractions of miles.

How far is a furlong?

Using the Imperial British system for measuring distance a furlong is equal to 220 yards.

One furlong also equates to the following Imperial measures:

  • one eighth of a mile
  • 660 feet

When converting one furlong to the metric system, it comes to:

  • 0.2 kilometers
  • 201.1 meters

Where did the term furlong come from?

The word furlong has a history stretching back over a thousand years.

It is derived from two old English words, 'furh' and 'lang', which mean furrow and length. These refer to the length of a furrow or trench plowed in fields in the distant past.

To be specific, an English furlang was measured as the length of a trench across one acre of land.

This was equivalent to 40 rods, or 660 feet. This was the distance a team of oxen could pull a plow without needing to rest.

Unlike the majority of old English words, including its companion measurement unit, the rod, the term furlang survived into the modern era with just the 'a' being swapped out for an 'o' to arrive at the modern furlong.

What is a furlong used to measure?

In the distant past the furlang was a popular unit of measurement in agriculture, and over time the furlong was exported to many of the English colonies where it was used for land surveying.

Usage of the furlong as a unit of measurement in the UK and Ireland continued into the 20th century before being abolished under the Weights and Measures Act of 1985.

While the word furlong is not commonly used in surveying in the United States anymore, many city blocks in Salt Lake City, Chicago and Phoenix were built over an area of one square furlong.

The furlong is still an official measurement unit in Myanmar, where it is used in conjunction with miles on the highway signs of that country.

Usage of the furlong in horse racing

Jockeys racing horses past the one furlong marker at Sandown Park racecourse.

The furlong has been used as a unit of length in horse racing since the sports emerged in England during the 16th century.

Today the word furlong is used in the measurement of standard race distances used in both flat and National Hunt horse racing in the UK and Ireland.

Common flat race distances which use the furlong include:

  1. five furlongs - the minimum length of a flat sprint
  2. six furlongs - a common sprint distance in flat racing
  3. seven furlongs - a popular distance for flat juveniles being groomed as milers
  4. 1 mile 1 furlong - a distance used to test milers over a slightly longer distance
  5. 1 mile 2 furlongs - an intermediate distance allowing milers to compete against middle distance specialists
  6. 1 mile 3 furlongs - a middle distance race format commonly used to test middle distance fillies
  7. 1 mile 4 furlongs - the standard middle distance in flat racing
  8. 1 mile 6 furlongs - a stayers distance in flat racing, sometimes attempted by middle distance racehorses.

The furlong is not only used to describe horse race distances, but can also be used in commentary, for example a National Hunt stayer could win its race by a length of one furlong.

Furlong FAQ

How many yards in a furlong?

There are 220 yards in a furlong.

How long is a furlong in miles?

A furlong is one eighth of a mile.

How many metres in a furlong?

There are 201 metres in a furlong.

What is a furlong in kilometers?

A furlong is 0.21 kilometers. Conversely there are approximately 5 furlongs in a kilometer.

How many feet in a furlong?

There are 660 feet in a furlong. In Old English unit of measurement terms, this was equivalent to a length of 40 rods.

What is a square furlong?

A square furlong is a square with each side measuring one furlong in length. In the past this was commonly used as the preferred size of a city block.

What's the difference between a mile and 8 furlongs?

There is no difference in length between a mile and eight furlongs. In horse racing the word mile will always be used in preference of the term eight furlongs.