Types of Running Styles of Racehorses

Even trainers and jockeys study a horse’s characteristics to win a race, and one of the most crucial characteristics that jockeys need to learn is the horses running style. Knowing the horse’s abilities and characteristics also means learning how to maneuver the horse in a race. Learning the running styles can also significantly impact draw biases and other race results. It can give handicappers a guess on the race’s outcome and give them a better idea of who to bet. There are three general running styles of horses: front runners, stalkers, and closers. 

Front Runners or the Flash

Front runners are sometimes called the Leaders or pacesetters because they like to lead or near the front. They were also called “speed horses” or “rabbits.” They like to lead the race right from the start to establish their position first or second, and when they do, they usually perform their best and can lead throughout the race. If they fail to lead on an early start, they will likely have difficulty closing the gaps between the other horses in the race. Hence, jockeys would try to push them right at the beginning of the race. They might struggle to take the lead at an early pace if they were drawn at the outer lane or outside rail of the track—higher draw numbers like 10. A wider bend on an early turn just to get to the front is already too challenging for front-runner horses. So, if the horse is a front-runner, the best draw number should be lower as it is positioned near the rail. 

A good front-runner horse also sets the pace (that is why it is sometimes called a pacesetter) with its moderate speed or pace to preserve stamina and hold out its position as the leader. However, it can mostly happen if there are no other front-runner horses since no one wants to rally his pace to be the lead, leading the race unchallenged. A true champion front-runner horse can lead the pack from the beginning to the end. 

On the other hand, there are also some cases where the horse’s running style can tire the horse more quickly. If other front-runner horses are faster and have higher stamina than them, some front-runners with lower stats might get beaten up. These horses who tried to hold out their lead from the beginning tend to tire themselves out and fade towards the end. Hence, handicappers should check each horse’s statistics, not just their running styles. 

Stalkers or the Chaser

Stalkers are sometimes called pace pressers because they only chase behind the pacesetters or front runners. From the word itself, stalkers are horses who like to follow front runners just right behind them, even if they can overtake the leading horses effortlessly. This kind of horse has a higher chance of saving more energy and maximizing its stamina in a race than the front-runner horse. They only need a veteran jockey who can guide them on when to increase their speed to overtake the front runners and win the race. However, it is not as easy to determine when to strike as jockeys need to consider the pace of the race and the number of horses close to the lead.  

The stalking style depends on the skill and knowledge of the jockey to have the right timing. The jockey should find the “right front-runners” to follow and avoid a leader who tires fast, as this can affect the momentum of the stalking horse. The jockeys must also pinpoint the right timing to speed up their horses. If the stalker speeds up too early, they might tire in the stretch. If the horse speeds up too late, they might be unable to overtake the leading horses before the finish line. Hence, it must always be the perfect timing. A good stalker horse is versatile and can adjust in any circumstance, good enough to follow thoroughly what the jockey commands.  

Aside from eyeing the front runners, the jockey of the stalker horse must also check for the closers (horses who like to be behind), especially when it is about the final stretch. Being too focused on the leading horses can disregard some good closers.  

The stalking style is more popular and has a higher probability of winning for most horses because stalkers are in a better position than closers and can save more energy than front runners, who usually need to exert more energy. There are also times that stalker horses can assume the lead if the race lacks a front runner.  

Closers or the Last but NEVER the LEAST

Closers are the opposite of Front runners. They like to be at the end line for a good portion of the race, mainly from the beginning until mid-race. They conserve energy as much as possible, so they wait at the end of the pack before unleashing an incredible speed that can outrun all the horses in front. Good closers have tremendous speed and stamina as they have a longer, speedy run to catch up. These types of closers were usually big and powerful horses. 

Just like the stalkers, closers also need the best timing when to speed up and win the race. However, the distance between closers and front runners is longer than between the stalkers and front runners, so the closers must begin to speed up before the final turn—except if the race is unusually long (1⅛ miles or longer). Hence, the jockey’s skills are also crucial in handling closer horses. 

The main disadvantage for closers is that they are more dependent on the race to make their move than the front runners and stalkers. Handicappers should first classify the running styles of all the horses and their speed to calculate the pace of the race. If the pace of the leader horse is slow, there is a minimal to zero chance for closers to win since the front runners and stalkers also still have plenty of energy for the late run. As closers, they needed more speed and time to outrun the other types of horses. In the end, they tend to lose in that situation. Hence, closers are favorable to win in a fast-paced race or faster than the average pace.  

Another unfavorable fact about closers is that most of the horses who won were not closers. They were either front-runners or stalkers. Hence, finding a good closer horse can be difficult, as the situation to win a closer horse is demanding—everything should be in the right place.  

However, if you find and bet on a good closer, it brings thrills and unbelievable feelings if it wins the race. From a dead last to suddenly conquering every horse it passes and claiming victory. It gives chills and exhilarating excitement, just like Zenyatta, known to be one of the greatest closers and hailed the “Queen of Racing.” She won 19 out of her 20 races as a closer. She was undefeated until her last race as a great closer horse. Each of her races was breathtaking and full of expectations from the audience.  


Some horses can change their running style as front runners, closers, or stalkers. These are super-talented horses who can adapt to any race as needed. 

An example is Audible (2015), who won his 2018 Florida Derby as a closer. In his previous races, he was a pure stalker, maintaining 3-4 lengths behind the leaders until the last stretch. Secretariat is another tremendous and talented horse, considered the greatest horse of all time. He started as a deep closer and evolved into a front-runner who won the Belmont Stakes (1973) by an astounding 31 lengths over Sham.