The History of Pacing

Pacing, as all harness racing sports, is a relatively new addition to the world of horse racing. The history of pacing extends back a little over two hundred years. The excitement of the races we enjoy today is the result of elaborate breeding, as the horses best suited to harness racing are not the thoroughbreds who have run flat and jump races for hundreds of year, but the much younger horse variety of the standardbred.

In 1780 the godfather of all standardbreds, the English thoroughbred stallion Messenger, was foaled in Great Britain and exported to North America in 1788. With the arrival of this horse and the beginning of his time as a siring stud, the evolution of the standardbred horse began. Messenger's great-grandson Hambletonian 10, foaled 1849, can be tracked as top of the lineage in almost every harness racing standardbred horse in North America, thanks to his four sire-happy sons - George Wilkes, Dictator, Happy Medium and Electioneer. The standardbred naturally prefers the gait of pace or trot, making it the ideal candidate to start in a harnessed race.

However, before the standardbred horse was fully developed and recognised as a suitable harness racer, the field was dominated by the Morgan, a breed named after its founder Justin Morgan who passed away in 1821.

Technically, the harness race, a race in which the horse does not carry the jockey on its back but pulls him in a small two-wheeled cart- the sulky -, has its beginnings in ancient Greece and the Roman empire; when spectators came together to watch dangerous displays of races with horse and wooden carts. However, once these two great civilizations ceased to be, the harness race was largely forgotten about as a proper spectator sport until making a strong comeback in the early 19th century.

In North America the first recorded harness racing performance dates 1806 and is attributed to a horse by the name of Yankey. Yankey completed the set one mile track in two minutes 59 seconds. In Australia, harness racing was introduced in 1810, the lucky contender to win the first official race held down under answered to the name Miss Kitty. In 1838 the iconic Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame is called into existence in Goshen, later to be known as the home of the standardbred. A track, which remains operational to this day, was added in 1926; and the grounds are a registered historic place today. Many of the early Hambletonian races, named in honour of 'The Daddy of 'em all', were held at Goshen, earning it a legendary reputation in harness racing circles.

In 1853 the first harness racing only racetrack was established in New Jersey. Freehold Raceway to this day holds races from Tuesday to Saturday, with the contenders running their standard mile in two rounds on a half-mile track.

The term 'Standardbred' finally made its appearance in the racing lingo in 1879. It was derived from the standard time of two minutes and 30 seconds that a horse had to achieve on the one mile track to be considered a worthy contender.

Since their return to the racing circuit, harness races have gained popularity all over the world. However, not all countries enjoy pacing and trotting equally. While pacing makes up almost 90% of harness races in North America, the European continent holds all harness races between trotters. Still, pacing races can also be experienced in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.