Silks & Sulkies (So what is Harness Racing?)
And they are racing.... There is nothing as exciting as the spectacle of a good harness race.
What is harness racing? Often the terms "harness racing" and "the trots" are used as if they are the same. If you read on you'll hear how they are not !
Harness racing is one of the most thrilling, action-packed, colourful entertainments. It's also extremely popular with the betting public. Harness racing is one of three codes of racing in Australia. Along with greyhounds (dogs) and thoroughbred racing (gallops) it is a vibrant part of the entertainment industry. Many punters believe the favourite is more likely to win in harness racing than in the other codes of racing.
The unique world-wide sport of harness racing is very different to thoroughbred racing. In harness racing, a specially bred and trained horse known as a standardbred pulls a driver in a light, two-wheeled sulky The standardbred may look similar to a thoroughbred, but it is smaller, with heavier bones, a larger body, shorter legs, a more robust build and certainly greater endurance. The harness horse is, on the whole, remarkably tough, versatile and, most importantly, not as temperamental as its galloping cousin - which means its form and durability tends to be more consistent.
The modern history of harness racing goes back around 200 years . The sport really took off when the English stallion Messanger was imported into the USA in 1788. Messanger not only possessed more stamina and determination than his thoroughbred contemporaries, but was also blessed with a smooth and rapid trotting gait. Match races were common at that time, these later developed into organised track racing.
Harness racing meetings have been held in Australia for more than 130 years on tracks ranging in circumference from 700 to 1000 metres. In New South Wales, these meetings are organised by Clubs under the control of the Harness Racing Authority of NSW. Meetings usually consist of between six and nine races. Many of these meetings are held at night under floodlights, which adds to the atmosphere. The pressure of the race, the tactical strategies employed by the drivers, and the flashing silks, provide a wonderfully exciting experience.
Also unlike galloppers, in Australia harness horses generally race in an anti-clockwise direction. And the horses usually start from a mobile (or moving) barrier. Six, eight or sometimes ten, horses will start from the front row with any remaining horses lining up behind them.
Harness races are usually conducted over distances between 1609 metres (one mile) and 2400 metres. Standardbreds either compete at the more popular pacing gait or a trotting gait. Confused? These two terms distinguish the way a standardbred runs. A pacer is a standardbred with a lateral gait, which means it moves both legs on the same side forward in unison (for example, its left front and left rear legs), and then follows suit with both legs on the other side (right front and rear legs). A trotter, on the other hand, has a diagonal gait. For example, its left front and right rear legs move forward simultaneously, and then the right front and left rear legs follow together.
Generally, pacing races use a mobile start, but sometimes from a "standing start" (where the horses begin from standing still). Trotters races are always standing starts. In either type of race, horses with similar ability or performance records race against each other, or horses of differing ability are handicapped accordingly to give them a chance of winning. The aim of handicapping is to achieve a fair race. In Australia handicapping is achieved by the national handicapping system that was introduced on 1st September 1996. (Select the word handicapping to read more about it.)
Because the pacing gait is generally easier to maintain and easier to teach, the majority of harness races are for pacers. If you've ever seen a pacer racing, you would have noticed a weird collection of straps connecting its front and rear legs on the same side. These straps are called hopples. They can help the pacer balance its stride and maintain a pacing gait. In comparison, trotters do not wear hopples because of their diagonal movement - perhaps this is why they tend to break more often than pacers.
If a trotter or a pacer gallops or otherwise breaks stride during a race, the driver must pull up the horse and coax it back into the approved gait. This is vitally important, because it is unfair to the other runners and is an offence. It is also an offence for a horse not to be raced on its merits. A driver may be reprimanded or penalised by the stipendiary stewards, who supervise the running of licensed race meetings. Their Reports are available elsewhere on this Web Site.
The industry has a comprehensive Anti-corruption policy. Punters and other race-goers are encouraged to report any matters at all to either Stewards at a track or the industry Anti-corruption Co-ordinator .
Harness racing is an exciting event for all the family. Clubs will often provide dining and other facilities at their tracks as well as an action-packed program of races.
For newcomers, it can be hard to get a grasp of the language used by harness racing industry participants and officials. Abbreviations used to summarise form in racebooks can also be confusing to newcomers. These abbreviations as well as common racing terms and betting terms are included in subsequent pages.
With a little study of these pages, you can head to a track well equipped to enjoy the racing. However, if you're still a little hesitant about attending a meeting for the first time, many clubs will "meet and greet" you if you phone their office or send them an E-mail a little ahead of time. Contact details are include in the Tracks pages. All clubs welcome groups from social clubs, community groups, and other clubs - so why not plan a special outing and head to the track for a night out ! It will be a night you'll never forget !!