What’s a Thoroughbred horse?

The Thoroughbred is a specific “hot-blooded” horse breed that has a lean yet muscular body, strong shoulders and long legs. All Thoroughbreds descend from three foundation stallions (Byerley Turk, Godolphin Arabian and Darley Arabian). They are bred for speed, stamina and heart. Some famous Thoroughbred horses include Seabiscuit, Secretariat and Pennsylvania’s own, Smarty Jones, Lil E. Tee and Princess of Sylmar.

What makes it a Thoroughbred race?

The more widely known of the two horse racing types, Thoroughbred racing is when a jockey rides on the back of a horse. For it to be a true Thoroughbred race, the participating horses have to be of an actual Thoroughbred horse breed. Races range widely in distance, track surface and class.

Thoroughbred race classes

Like most sports, Thoroughbred racing has its levels — the Minor and Major Leagues, per se. These levels are referred to as “classes,” which range from maiden races (horses that have never won a race) to stakes (the best of the best). In between are the claiming and non-selling classes.

Within each class, there are different types of races. The most well-known of these subsets are the stakes Grades 1, 2 and 3, with Grade 1 Stakes being the highest level attainable, with the highest race prize purses. Pennsylvania currently hosts two Grade 1 Stakes races — the Pennsylvania Derby and the Cotillion at Parx Racing® at Parx Casino®.

Additionally, within each type of race, there are age groupings. For instance, only 3-year-old Thoroughbreds are eligible for the Triple Crown races.

Pennsylvania Thoroughbred racetracks

Pennsylvania is home to three Thoroughbred racetracks: Parx Racing® at Parx Casino®; Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, the first exclusive year round Thoroughbred race course in the state; and Presque Isle Downs & Casino, one of North America’s top three fastest-growing tracks and also home to the Presque Isle Masters — a top Breeders’ Cup prep event. All three Pennsylvania tracks are wonderfully unique places to spend a weeknight or weekend of live horse racing action. Find the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred racetrack nearest you on our Tracks page.

The jockey factor

Like any profession, there’s a distinct jockey hierarchy. Some have more experience than others. How much of a difference the jockey actually makes in a race is up for debate, but there’s no denying that they do make a difference. A good jockey, such as Parx Racing® legend Tony Black, often wins more than the average jockey. There’s a level of strategy and riding skill he or she must possess to rise up in the ranks. So, when placing your bet, always remember the jockey factor.

Thoroughbred tack

Like any sport, horse racing’s athletes have gear that’s crucial to the success of a race. What kind of tack (equipment) is legal changes from race to race, so familiarizing yourself with Thoroughbred racing’s basic jockey and horse tack list will help you to become an even more educated and well-rounded fan.

Famous Pennsylvania Thoroughbreds

Over the years, Pennsylvania has produced many memorable Thoroughbred horses, but there are a few that rise to the very top: Page McKenney, Smarty Jones and Storm Cat.

Page McKenney

After racing in maiden, claiming and allowances races for the first 25 races of his career, Page McKenney made his stakes debut in the Robellino Stakes in August 2014 at Penn National Race Course and won by 1¾ lengths. He added a victory in the First Responder Stakes later in 2014.

  • Starts: 58
  • 1st: 22
  • 2nd: 16
  • 3rd: 5
  • Total earnings: $1,905,940

Smarty Jones racing

Smarty Jones

The legend, Smarty Jones, was born at Fairthorne Farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Roy and Pat Chapman’s 3-year-old champion, Smarty Jones, captured the hearts of Pennsylvania’s racing fans with his exciting win in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Trained by John Servis, and ridden by Stewart Elliott, the all-time-leading, Pennsylvania-bred money earner began his career at Philadelphia Park, won the Nursery Stakes and was only the second Kentucky Derby winner to come into the race undefeated since Seattle Slew. Smarty Jones will stand at Equistar Training Center in Annville, Pennsylvania, beginning in 2019.

  • Starts: 9
  • 1st: 8
  • 2nd: 1
  • 3rd: 0
  • Total earnings: $7,613,155

Storm Cat

Storm Cat was a grandson of Northern Dancer, one of the most dominant breed-shaping sires of the 20th century. He is known as the sire of sires and is found in the pedigrees of many modern Thoroughbreds. Storm Cat’s racing career was highlighted by capturing the Grade 1 Young America Stakes and finishing second in the 1985 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. But even more impressive was his stud career. For 20 years, Storm Cat sired earners of over $127 million and 108 Graded Stakes winners, including champions of the Preakness, Belmont Stakes, Kentucky Oaks and five Breeders’ Cup races.

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