Air Pollution Slows Horse Races

Horse racetracks located in cities heavy with industry or traffic often don't have the freshest of air. A University of Pennsylvania scientist has now answered the question of whether smog affects the performance of race horses. In some instances, it does.

Maureen Gates at the University's School of Veterinary Medicine reviewed winning times at major racetracks in the United States. She found that the average speed of horse races does not seem influenced by the amount of small particles of pollution floating in the air. But two chemical components do affect race results.

A few horse races during the last 35 years were run under ozone levels that are considered hazardous by the Pollutants Standards Index. Finishing times for these races were markedly slower, Gates concludes.

The Belmont Park track at Elmont, New York stood out with the highest proportion of races held when ozone conditions were hazardous. That, along with Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore Maryland, had winning times that were about four seconds slower than races at seven other US tracks of nine furlongs (one-and-an-eighth miles) in length.

Another link between air pollution and race results showed up at Californian racetracks. When the air contained relatively low levels of nitrogen dioxide, races of seven furlongs were faster.

Over the 35-year period that Gates examined for trends, she found that winning times in Grade 1 Stakes Thoroughbred races of 8, 9 and 12 furlongs actually improved slightly overall.


Maureen C. Gates. 2007. The influence of air pollution on Thoroughbred race performance. Equine and Comparative Exercise Physiology. 4: 79-88.

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