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Do horses get jet lag? Can they travel in style? Here are all the answers to questions you didn’t know you had.

Nikki Ekstein
April 29, 2016

If you’re heading to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, your biggest travel question might be how to pack your hat. (Answer: it’s its own carry-on.) But for jockeys and livestock owners, there’s a much bigger question at play: coordinating transport for some of the world’s most powerful creatures. We talked to Derby insiders about the logistics behind horse travel and picked up some surprising factoids about the days-long lead up to the “most exciting two minutes in sports.” Here, the fascinating answers to your not-so-pressing questions.

How much does the average racehorse weigh?

Racehorses usually weigh between 1,000–1,300 pounds. It may sound like a lot, but the biggest planes in the world can actually hold more than half a million pounds in cargo.

Related: Seven Secrets of Churchill Downs

How many racehorses can you fit on a plane?

The planes used for equestrian transport can fit up to 21 horses, each with their own individual stall. At full capacity, the animals are placed in rows of three.

Do horses get in-flight meals?

There might not be peanuts, pretzels, or Biscoff cookies handed out to hoofed creatures, but horses are given hay nets so that they can eat during the flight.

Can horses handle long-haul flights?

Horses come to the Derby from all over the world—some fly in from Europe or the Middle East, while others are domestic travelers, based in places like California or Florida. This year, there aren't likely to be any international entrants, but previous years have proven that horses can tackle flights as long as 18 hours. Just last year, Derby contender Mubtaahij logged one of the longest voyages yet, flying from South Africa to Dubai to Chicago, then traveling by van to Kentucky.

How does a horse deplane? Presumably there’s no jet way for animals.

The horses land at Louisville international Airport where they are transferred onto a ramp and into a van for a three-mile drive to Churchill Downs. Their feet never touch the ground as they’re transferred between vehicles.

Do horses get jet lagged?

Depends on who you ask—some trainers say yes and others say no. Even still, every effort is made to make the travel as easy as possible and keep the horses on their schedules. Racehorses are creatures of habit.

How far in advance do horses arrive at Churchill Downs?

When horses come from out of the country, they spend about 48 hours in a separate barn from their fellow hooved travelers as a standard practice. That means they have to arrive at least a few days ahead of the race. 

Is there such a thing as traveling in style, if you’re a horse?

If you're a VIP (er, VIH), then yes. After winning the Triple Crown at Belmont last year, American Pharoah was given a police escort for his trip from the airport to his stall at Churchill Downs.

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