How are winning distances calculated?

If you look at the full finishing order of any horse race, on the results page of the ‘Racing Post’ or a similar publication, you’ll notice that the distance between one horse and another is recorded in lengths, or fractions of a length. Of course, this is true not only of the winning distance – or, in other words, the officially declared distance between the first two horses past the post – but also the distances between the placed, and unplaced, horses, right down to last place.

Nowadays, distances range from a nose, at one end of the scale, to 200 lengths, at the other. In terms of actual physical distance, a nose can be anything between an eighth of an inch and three inches, approximately, while a length is typically between eight and nine feet, approximately. However, it is worth noting that distances are not actually calculated by measuring the length of space between two horses. In fact, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) utilises a series of computerised ‘lengths per second’ (LPS) tables, such that, in fact, all distances are a measurement of elapsed time between horses.

The scale of each LPS table varies according to the code under which the race takes place, that is, Flat or National Hunt, the official going description on the day and, for all-weather racing, the specific type of synthetic surface, such as Fibresand, Polytrack or Tapeta. Thus, scales range from four lengths per second, for National Hunt races run on good to soft, or worse, going to six lengths per second for Flat races run on good to soft, or better, going or on Polytrack.