Fact or myth: Are all North American dirt tracks one mile in circumference?

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

May 25th, 2022

If you follow North American horse racing, perhaps you've come to believe the vast majority of Thoroughbred racetracks are one-mile dirt ovals. But is that really the case?

Certainly one-mile dirt ovals are commonplace, and their standardization is impressive compared to the ever-varying turf courses of all shapes and sizes found in Europe. The 2021 American Racing Manual published by The Jockey Club lists 60 racetracks in the U.S. and Canada constructed as dirt ovals, and 41 (68%) measure one mile (or thereabouts) in circumference:

  • Albuquerque: One mile
  • Aqueduct: 1 1/8 miles
  • Arapahoe Park: One mile
  • Arizona Downs: One mile
  • Assiniboia Downs: 6 1/2 furlongs
  • Belmont Park: 1 1/2 miles
  • Belterra Park: One mile
  • Canterbury Park: One mile
  • Century Mile: One mile
  • Charles Town: Six furlongs
  • Churchill Downs: One mile
  • Colonial Downs: 1 1/4 miles
  • Columbus Races: Five furlongs
  • Delaware Park: One mile
  • Del Mar: One mile
  • Delta Downs: Six furlongs
  • Ellis Park: 1 1/8 miles
  • Emerald Downs: One mile
  • Evangeline Downs: One mile
  • Fair Grounds: One mile
  • Fair Meadows Tulsa: Five furlongs
  • Fairmount Park: One mile
  • Finger Lakes: One mile
  • Fonner Park: Five furlongs
  • Fort Erie: One mile
  • Fresno Fair: One mile
  • Gulfstream Park: 1 1/8 miles
  • Hastings: Five furlongs
  • Hawthorne: One mile
  • Horsemen’s Park: Five furlongs
  • Horseshoe Indianapolis: One mile
  • Keeneland: 1 1/16 miles
  • Laurel Park: One mile and 600 feet
  • Lone Star Park: One mile
  • Los Alamitos: One mile
  • Louisiana Downs: One mile
  • Mahoning Valley: One mile
  • Meadowlands: One mile
  • Monmouth Park: One mile
  • Mountaineer: One mile
  • Oaklawn Park: One mile
  • Parx Racing: One mile
  • Penn National: One mile
  • Pimlico: One mile
  • Pleasanton: One mile
  • Prairie Meadows: One mile
  • Remington Park: One mile
  • Ruidoso Downs: Seven furlongs
  • Sam Houston: One mile
  • Santa Anita: One mile
  • Santa Rosa: About one mile
  • Saratoga: 1 1/8 miles
  • Sunland Park: One mile
  • SunRay Park: Six furlongs
  • Tampa Bay Downs: One mile
  • Thistledown: One mile
  • Timonium: Five furlongs
  • Turf Paradise: One mile
  • Will Rogers Downs: One mile
  • Zia Park: One mile

But this nevertheless means 32% of Thoroughbred dirt tracks don’t conform to the one-mile standard. Among the 19 tracks defying expectations are some of the most prominent in the United States: Belmont Park, home of the Belmont S. (G1); Saratoga, where elite summer racing takes place; Keeneland, which hosts prestigious meets in the spring and fall; and Gulfstream Park, where high-class horses often spend the winter.

What does this mean for handicapping? It means we can’t broadly assume all North American dirt tracks are the same. Bettors typically expect a 1 1/8-mile race to take place around two turns, as is the standard at one-mile ovals. But at 1 1/2-mile Belmont Park, a 1 1/8-mile race is held around one turn. And at six-furlong Charles Town, horses racing 1 1/8 miles must negotiate three tight turns.

Since the number of turns can have a significant impact on the complexion and outcome of a race, handicappers are advised to familiarize themselves with the configurations of North America’s dirt ovals. There’s more variety than you might assume.