How many lengths are there in a furlong?
‘Furlong’ is an Middle English term, derived from the Old English ‘furlang’, meaning ‘length of a furrow’, and was first recorded during the Dark Ages. The distance was standardised as 660 feet, or 220 yards (one-eighth of a mile) during the Middle Ages and, although it remained an official measurement in Britain until 1985, nowadays it is confined, almost exclusively, to horse racing in English-speaking countries.
Similarly, the ‘length’ has been the standard measure for winning margins in horse racing since time in memoriam. However, it may come as a surprise to learn that the length is not a measure of distance per se, but rather a measurement of elapsed time as the horses cross the winning line. An official time is recorded for each horse and is subsequently converted into an official distance by reference to a computerised lengths-per-second table, which takes into account factors such as the prevailing going. In recent years, in the interests of greater accuracy, the lengths-per-second has been extended by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), so that maximum official winning distances up to, and including, 200 lengths are possible.
To answer the headline question, a length can vary according to the size, conformation and stride pattern of the horses involved but, generally speaking, is between 8 and 9 feet. Thus, the number of lengths in a furlong is typically somewhere between 73 and 83.