Guide to One and Two Turn Track Configurations
Level: Intermediate
By Dana Byerly, Hello Race Fans Co-founder

Nuance and overlooked angles are the lifeblood of handicappers: we crave an edge and will work hard to find a little something that others may have overlooked. One such nuance is track configuration.

Because tracks are configured differently, the same distance is not run the same way at all racetracks. For example, a 1-mile race at Gulfstream Park is run around one turn, while a 1-mile race at Oaklawn Park is run around two turns. And Fair Grounds Race Course doesn’t even have 1-mile races, but its race run at 1 mile and 70 yards is run around two turns. In most cases, you will find a diagram of the race’s configuration in the upper right hand corner of the past performance.

different configurations for the same distance

One can also find detailed information about every track configuration in the American Racing Manual, the annually published statistical tome produced by the Daily Racing Form. Information available includes a diagram, the precise distance of the track, chutes and the stretch. But while there are dozens of configurations and track distances, we’ll focus on noting which distances are run at one turn and which distances are run at two turns between the distances of 7-furlongs and 1 1/8 miles (9-furlongs), as these races are where there is the most variation.

How can information about track configuration be factored into your handicapping? Let’s investigate…

As a Kentucky Derby Factor
“Is he a two-turn horse?” is a question you’ll hear asked throughout the Kentucky Derby prep season. Generally it’s meant to ask if a horse will do well as he stretches out to try longer distances, but one of the new challenges he might face at those longer distances is racing around two turns instead of one. In fact, one of the many angles commonly used to evaluate Kentucky Derby contenders is how they’ve fared at two-turn races. Horses coming into the Kentucky Derby with multiple, positive efforts around two turns are usually viewed as serious contenders.

Aside from figuring out who is trying two turns for the first time, knowing who has already done well, or not so well, around two turns can be very helpful. In any two-turn race, it’s good to keep an eye out for flashy maiden winners at a short price who have only raced around one turn, as these horses can frequently present an opportunity to find value elsewhere in the field with horses who have performed well at two turns that are a better price. There’s an old saying about never betting a horse who’s favored to do something he’s never done before, and this would be a good example of how that concept could be applied.

Why does the extra turn matter? Because there are more chances for traffic trouble and more maneuvering in general. If a horse is a little green or a bit of a plodder, the additional maneuvering that comes with two turns could potentially play against him or her. You can always watch replays to figure out how a horse facing two turns for the first time has handled traffic in general.

As you evaluate the Kentucky Derby contenders, keep in mind, as with all things in horse racing, that other factors such as post position, tactical speed and running style will play a big part of any effort as well.

As a Middle Distance Factor
As we previously mentioned, not all distances share the same track configuration. For example, 1 1/8-miles over the massive Belmont Park main track is a one-turn race, while at almost every other track in the U.S. the same distance is run at two turns. While that distance is fairly consistent in terms of configuration, the real variation between tracks comes at the middle distances of 7-furlongs to a mile.

In fact, looking closely at track configuration can be the most handy when judging horses running at the middle distances of 7-furlongs to a mile or stretching out from a sprint distance to a middle distance. For example, if a sprinter is stretching out to 7-furlongs at one turn, the distance is the primary challenge, whereas if it’s a two-turn 7-furlong race, the horse has the additional challenge of the added turn. These are the sorts of fine-grain distinctions handicappers live for!

Other Considerations
Post position is also a consideration with track configuration. We’ll have another post that digs deeper into this subject, but you can always check the win stats by post position for your track. If the information is not readily available on your track’s website, you can search it via the Equibase Meet Statistics. The report will also include jockey and trainer stats for the track, but you can find the post position stats on the last page.

While not broken out at specific distances, the “Sprint Races” include distances that are less than a mile and the “Distance Races” include distances that are a mile and above. Both “Sprint” and “Distance” stats are across all surfaces for the given track. Here’s a a recent example from Gulfstream Park:

post position stats

Example courtesy of Equibase

Another track configuration difference is the length of the homestretch, also referred to as the stretch (which is the last part of the race where the horses are heading for the finish line). For example, Fair Grounds has a notoriously long stretch, whereas Oaklawn Park’s 1-mile races and Keeneland’s 1 1/16-miles races have a notoriously short stretch. We’ll dig into this with another post, but as a rule of thumb, a short stretch means there’s less time to recover from a wide trip or traffic trouble and a longer stretch means there’s more of a chance to tire out before getting to the finish line.

Regardless of the handicapping problem you’re trying to solve, we’ve compiled a list of the configurations by track and distance that you can use as a handy guide. Happy handicapping!

Main Track Configurations
Listed below are distances for all available tracks and whether or not they are run at one or two turns. We’ve included only the distances where there is most the variation between tracks.
See bottom of chart for a key and more information.

Turf Configurations
Listed below are distances for all available tracks and whether or not they are run at one or two turns. We’ve included only the distances where there is most the variation between tracks.
See bottom of chart for a key and more information.

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  • william wallner

    Pretty certain that, in the paragraph following the 3 track diagrams, you mean 1 and 1/8 miles, not “1 and 1/18”

    I am old enough that being picky is all I have left. :-)

    I was actually trying to verify my thoughts about why 1 mile and 70 yards races. Guessing it has a lot to do with the distance to the first turn being too short to run races at 1 mile.

  • And you would be correct! Thank you :)

  • Hi sorry to bother you I am trying to find out if all the American tracks are all flat Or like English tracks ie: Galloping, Tight, Sharp, Stiff (uphill ect) or undulating tracks. Appreciate any advice help ect Pat Nevin, London England.

  • Hi Pat, no bother! Almost all American tracks are flat and vary with regard to how tight their turns are. For example, Belmont Park is known for its wide, sweeping turns and Santa Anita has a downhill turf course. Kentucky Downs also has a more European configuration and i believe it also has some undulation. Arlington Park and Woodbine turf courses have always been considered friendly to European shippers, but that might be more about how the grass is kept (a bit longer, etc).

    Thanks for stopping by and I hope this helped!

  • Thank you very much.

  • do you know where I can find the track SPECIFICATIONS for GULF STREAM PARK

  • Hi Richard – there’s a little bit of information on DRF’s site here:

    More detailed information is available in the annual American Racing Manual, also published by DRF. The most current one I have from 2009 (which means it contains 2008 information). The real difference from what’s available on DRF’s site is that you can more easily read the information in the graphic of the track: 1 mile chute.

    If you’re looking for turf rail information, here’s a post we did that will help you track it down (as it’s always changing):

    I hope this helps, and thanks for stopping by!

  • Is there a place where you can find the 1/2 1/2 3/4 mile pole diagrams for all hore tracks?
    thank you.

  • Hi Gerald, that’s a great question, and one I wish there was a better answer for. I did some Googling and found examples for a few tracks:

    Arlington, Churchill, Belmont:


    Saratoga (bottom of the page):

    I didn’t search every track but my suggestion is to 1) try the track’s own site (Keeneland has included theirs on their site, but they’re usually the exception) and try googling the track’s name and “track configuration” (e.g., saratoga track configuration).

    I hope this helps, and thanks for stopping by!

  • Charles Town races at 1 1/16 miles are around 3 turns.

  • Thanks Chris, I’ve updated it.

  • Where can I find the length of the stretch for North American tracks? Would also like to find which tracks have sharp turns or wide turns? These would seem to be a great handicapping tools.

  • Hi Jerry,

    Great question. You can find many of the stretch distances listed on the Track Information page at DRF:

    Click into a track and there’s a section titled “Track Layout” that has it listed. Here’s Aqueduct’s for example:
    “Distance from last turn to finish line: 1,155.5 feet.”

    I’m not aware of sharp or wide turns being documented but would love to find it! Thanks for stopping by.

  • Thanks Dana for info. DRF use to post it in the Race Form at times but not anymore.

  • The only North American racetracks that run two-turn 7-furlong turf races are Mountaineer Park and Turf Paradise, and Fort Erie in Canada – and Fair Grounds’ 1-mile dirt races use a “short stretch” (even though that means 1,016 feet instead of the continent’s second-longest 1,346-foot dirt stretch!). Furthermore, the Aqueduct Inner Dirt Track no longer exists, and there is no 1 1/16-mile distance on its main dirt track.

    As for Belmont’s “notoriously long stretch,” its stretch (1,097 feet) is shorter than that of both Aqueduct (1,155.5 feet) and Saratoga (1,144 feet).

  • Hi Anthony,

    Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for the info, it’s been awhile since we’ve updated this post! I took out a few closed tracks and made some updates based on your comment, much appreciated.

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