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HARNESS RACING 101

Welcome to the wonderful world of harness racing! This primer should help you get started enjoying the racing experience, but the real thrill comes from actually paying a visit to the track nearest you!

THE STANDARDBRED The horses used in harness racing are Standardbreds, and only a registered Standardbred may compete in a sanctioned harness race. The origins of the Standardbred trace back to Messenger, an English Thoroughbred foaled in 1780, and later exported to the United States. Messenger was the great-grandsire of Hambletonian 10, to whom every Standardbred can trace its heritage. Standardbreds are a relatively new breed, dating back just over 200 years, but it is a true American breed. The name “Standardbred” originated because the early trotters (pacers would not come into the picture until much later) were required to reach a certain standard for the mile distance in order to be registered as part of the new breed. The mile is still the standard distance covered in nearly every harness race. While Thoroughbred racing has long been known as the sport of kings, the dependable, athletic Standardbred brought racing to the common man, first between neighbors on community roads, and later at state-ofthe-art racetracks. Standardbred racing has long been known as the sport of the people, and both the sport and the breed are as much a part of our American landscape as cowboys and apple pie. As it evolved it gave the United States some of its first “sports heroes,” including the great Dan Patch, the legendary Adios and the great grey ghost, Greyhound. In many respects, the Standardbred resembles the Thoroughbred. However, it is often more muscled and longer in body, and does not stand as tall, averaging between 15 and 16 hands. The head is bigger and may even sport a Roman nose. This breed appears in varying colors, although bay and brown are predominant. It weighs between 800 and 1,000 pounds. Standardbreds are known for their docile personalities and willing temperaments.

GAITS Standardbred racing is contested on two gaits, the trot and the pace. Trotters move with a diagonal gait; the left front and right rear legs move in unison, as do the right front and left rear. It requires much skill by the trainer to get a trotter to move perfectly at high speeds, even though the trotting gait is a natural one in the animal world. Pacers, on the other hand, move the legs on one side of their body in tandem: left front and rear, Trotter Pacer A bay-colored Standardbred Hambletonian and right front and rear. This action shows why pacers are often called “sidewheelers.” Pacers, which account for about 80 percent of the performers in harness racing and are the faster of the two gaits, are aided in maintaining their gait by plastic loops called hobbles, which keep their legs moving in synchronization. Any trotter or pacer who “breaks” into a canter or gallop during a race must be pulled back to its correct gait and lose ground to its competitors or be disqualified from the race.
THE RACING Most Standardbreds start racing as 2- or 3-year-olds. Trotters race only trotters and pacers race only pacers. Racing takes place at numerous tracks and fairs across North America, although harness racing is most popular in the Midwest and the East. Some of North America’s top trotting races are the Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-olds, and the World Trotting Derby, Yonkers Trot, Hambletonian, and Kentucky Futurity for 3-year-olds. The latter three races make up the trotting Triple Crown. For pacers, top races include the Woodrow Wilson and Metro Stake for 2- year-olds, and the Little Brown Jug, Meadowlands Pace, North American Cup and the Adios for 3-year-olds. The Pacing Triple Crown is made up of the Little Brown Jug, the Messenger Stake and the Cane Pace.
DRIVERS AND TRAINERS When racing first started, most participants drove, trained and owned their own horses. In the last two decades, the sport has become much more specialized, and like Thoroughbreds, harness racing now has separate drivers and trainers. Drivers who are hired on a per-race basis are known as catch-drivers. This distinguishes them from trainer-drivers — trainers who also drive their horses.

 

WHO IS AT THE TRACK Some other people you will see/hear at the track helping to put on the races include:

Announcer: He sits in a booth on the roof and is the voice you hear calling the race.

Mutuel Clerk: The person who sells you a betting ticket.

Outrider: Seated on horseback, he or she leads the horses out for the race and helps with any ontrack problems that may arise.

Photographer: He or she takes a picture of every winning horse and their connections in the winner’s circle, and the owners, trainers, drivers and fans then purchase those photos as souvenirs.

Starter: He rides in the starting car from behind which the horses start the race.

 

Dave Palone (born February 26, 1962 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania) is an American harness racing trainer and driver. Palone became interested in harness racing after his father took him to watch the Adios Pace in 1976. A year later he went to work for trainer Herman Hylkema. Palone won his first race in 1983. Palone has collected the most wins in a year three times (1999, 2000, and 2004) and was voted Harness Tracks of America Driver of the Year in 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, and 2009. On September 22, 2005, Palone drove P Forty Seven to victory in the Little Brown Jug. The Little Brown Jug is the second leg of the Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Pacers. Palone was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame on July 4, 2010. Palone drove his 15,000th career winner on March 26, 2012 at Meadows Racetrack. Before Palone, only Hervé Filion had reached that harness racing milestone. On July 5, 2012, Palone set a new North American record for wins when he drove Herculotte Hanover to the winner’s circle for his 15,181st career victory. In January 2014, Palone was named Harness Tracks of America’s Driver of the Year for 2013. On Friday, November 14, 2014, Palone set the world record for wins when he drove Missy Tap Tina to the winner’s circle for his 16,754th career victory.

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