Two-beat speed is the standard in this equestrian sport. At the pace or trot, horses of the Standardbred breed compete in harness, while pulling a two-wheel sulky. Drivers urge their horses to race to the wire. Harness horses have competed in the United States for almost 200 years, with a mile race still the usual distance. They race at the trot or the pace, with pacers predominate in modern sport, although trotters are popular in several European countries. France breeds its own trotting horse, the French Trotter (“Trotteur Francais”).
In North America, Standardbreds compete at county fairs and pari-mutuel tracks. Tracks range in length, with half-mile, five-eighths of a mile, three-quarters of a mile, and one-mile ovals.
The field of entries starts a race spread across the track at close to racing speed behind a mobile starting gate. Once the gate opens and pulls away from the horses, drivers urge their horses “into the lane” or down toward the inside rail.
Harness racing is an important segment of the horse racing industry, especially in the Eastern United States. The Hambletonian Society encourages breeding and manages important events such as the Cadillac Hambletonian and the Cadillac Breeders Crown. Major stakes races feature substantial purses, equal to those in other flat racing.
On smaller tracks, harness racing offers family fun. Unlike most horses which are raced under saddle, Standardbred owners can train and drive their own horses.
Selection for Speed
Whether trotters or pacers, Standardbreds are registered through the United States Trotting Association. Ancestry influences which gait a horse prefers. Potential racehorses are bred for a specific gait, with pacers bred to pacers, and trotters to trotters.
Albert Gabel, DVM, formerly the AAEP liaison to the U.S.T.A., explained, “As the breed evolved through the 1800s, most bloodlines produced both tro