Not too many typical British racing fans are aware of harness racing, but it is a fantastically popular sport in various parts of the world.
In this sport mostly standardbreds, rather than thoroughbreds, pull along a two-wheeled sulky (cart) which is steered by a driver.
The sport took particular hold in New York, where major harness races have taken place and for huge prize money too.
About Harness Races
Races tend to be split between two variations; pacing and trotting. Trotters are trained to move their legs in diagonal pairs – right front/left hind, left front/right hind hitting the ground at the same time. Pacers on the other hand move their legs laterally – right front/right hind, left front/left hind.
Pacing is much more prevalent in the USA and Australia, where around 80% of all harness races are for pacers, while the opposite is true in Europe although the sport is less developed there.
Pacing races are faster than trotting events, and given that there is a strict rule regarding the horse’s gait, any horse breaking stride during an event is disqualified and so unlike in thoroughbred racing, horses cannot simply bolt away as fast as they can.
Drivers, an important distinction from jockeys, sit in the sulky and can help to steer the horse by tapping their whip on the sides of the cart.
Where is Harness Racing Popular?
Many harness races are held in France, Scandinavia, some other parts of continental Europe and more prevalently in Australia and New Zealand.
It is most popular however in North America. Most harness races in the States are staged on tracks built specifically for this sport.
Just about all major North American harness races are run at a mile, though some are run on tracks built at just half-a-mile or 5/8 of a mile round.
In the States, harness race meetings will show up on the same horse racing website and TV networks as major thoroughbred events.
Biggest Harness Races
Given the sports’ popularity in North America and Australasia this is where many of its’ biggest races take place:
- The Hambletonian – three-year-old trotters
- The Little Brown Jug – three-year-old pacers
- Breeders’ Crown Series – 12 races covering all categories
- The Gold Cup and Saucer – pacers
- Canadian Pacing Derby – pacers
- Maple Leaf Trot – trotters
- Inter Dominion Series – pacing and trotting series
- Miracle Mile Pace – one-mile pacers
- AG Hunter Cup – pacers
- Victoria Cup – pacers
- Australian Pacing Championships – pacers
- Australian Breeders’ Crown
- Auckland Cup
- New Zealand Cup