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Horse Racing Position Cuts Drag by up to 66%

Researchers have quantified how much different slipstreaming tactics reduce drag on a horse during a race, with wind tunnel simulations showing that “getting cover” can reduce aerodynamic drag by up to 66% in horse races.

Jockeys can save racehorses critical energy by riding closely behind or alongside others to take advantage of slipstreaming, according to the simulations of aerodynamic drag conducted at RMIT University’s wind tunnel.

The simulations used toy models that were miniature replicas of a racehorse and jockey, and found that slipstreaming can reduce aerodynamic drag by up to 66% in horse races.

Prof Franz Fuss said that slipstreaming was a standard strategy in sports such as cycling and speed skating to save athletes’ power and energy. “In a horse race, jockeys can use this same principle to give their horses an edge and help them reserve energy for that crucial final burst,” Fuss said.

“Our research for the first time quantifies how much drag is reduced through different slipstreaming tactics in a horse race.”

The research showed the impact of different horse positions on drag:

  • two horses racing in front reduce the drag of one trailing horse by 66%;
  • four horses running in single file reduce the drag of the last horse by 54%;
  • two horses running closely behind each other reduce the drag of the leading horse by 6.5% and the drag of the trailing horse by 38.5%; and
  • five horses racing side-by-side increase the drag of the centre horse by 25%.