Frequently Asked Questions about Harness Racing
What Is Harness Racing?
Harness racing is a form of Horse Racing in which the horses race at a specific gait (a trot or pace ). They usually pull a two-wheeled cart called a Sulky.
What Type of Horse Is Used In Harness Racing?
The origins of the Standardbred trace back to Messenger, an English Thoroughbred foaled in 1780, and later exported to the United States.
The name “Standardbred” originated because 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.
Who Drives the Horses?
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.
How Do I Wager On Harness Racing?
We hope that you enjoy your time watching and wagering on Harness Racing in Manitoba.
How To Wager:
When you visit a mutuel window, state the following information:
(1) Race number
(2) Amount of wager
(3) Type of wager
(4) Program number(s)
Example: Third Race, Two Dollars to win on Number Six.
Types of Traditional Wagers:
WIN – The horse you select must finish first in the race.
PLACE – The horse you select must finish first or second.
SHOW – The horse you select must finish first, second or third.
EXACTA – The two horses you select must finish first and second in exact order.
EXACTA BOX – The two horses you select must finish first and second in any order.
TRIFECTA (Triple) – The three horses you select must finish first, second and third in exact order.
TRIFECTA BOX – The horses you select must finish first, second and third in any order.
SUPERFECTA – The four horses you select much finish first, second, third, and fourth in exact order.
SUPERFECTA BOX – The horses you select must finish first, second third, and fourth in any order. *With all box wagers, the cost of the bet is calculated based upon the number of possible combinations*. Example: If you were to bet a $2 exacta box with horse numbers 1and 2, the possible winning combinations would be 1-2 and 2-1. The cost of this bet is $4.
DAILY DOUBLE – Picking the winners of two consecutive races that are designated as Daily Double races. The horses you wager on must win each of the races you select. Wagers must be placed before the running of the first of the two races.
PICK THREE – Picking the winners of three races that are designated Pick Three Races. Wagers must be placed before the running of the first of the three races.
PICK FOUR – Picking the winners of four consecutive races that are designated Pick Four races. Wagers must be placed before the running of the first of the four races.
PICK FIVE – Picking the winners of five consecutive races that are designated Pick Five races. Wagers must be placed before the running of the first of the five races.
MINIMUM WAGERS – The minimum wager is $1
How Fast Is A Harness Horse?
Races usually are contested at speeds averaging 25-30 miles per hour for the mile distance. When leaving the starting gate, top horses reach speeds close to 35 miles an hour.
What Does Breaking Stride Mean?
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.
What Causes Horses To Break Stride?
Several factors can cause breaks. A horse may be going too fast to maintain his gait. He may be tired. He may be interfered with. He may also be lame.
How Often Does A Horse Race?
Once a week is considered the ideal. The number of horses present in a particular class usually affects the number of racing opportunities he may have.
Why Do Drivers Sometimes Hold Their Horses Back?
If a horse can go a mile in 2:05 and no more, a driver may pull back on him to “rate” him if the pace is too fast. Coming down the stretch, a driver may hold firmly to the lines to prevent a tired horse from breaking.
Why Do Some Horses Have Their Legs Bandaged?
For the same reason that human athletes frequently wear tape and other bandages to help support their legs and provide protection.
Is a Driver Permitted to Bet?
Yes, but only on his own horse.
Does a Drivers Weight Make a Difference?
For years the experts have been saying no, except under muddy conditions. Some observers have noticed, however, that a majority of the sports leading drivers have tended to be on the small and light side.
Is Driving Dangerous?
A certain amount of danger is inherent in any activity that combines great speed and split second timing decisions. Harness racing contains both speed and the need for quick decisions.
Is It Better For a Horse to Race Along the Rail?
Definitely. Mathematicians have figured that a horse racing five feet from the rail will travel 62 feet farther than the horse at the rail at the mile distance over a half-mile.
Are There Age Limits for Race Horses?
A horse may not race until he reaches 2 years old or race beyond his 15th birthday.
What is The Difference Between a Trotter and a Pacer?
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 move the legs on one side of their body in tandem: left front and rear and right front and rear. This action shows why pacers are often called “side-wheelers”. 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.
What Are Some Terms Specific to Harness Racing?
BOXED IN: A horse that is racing on the fence that is surrounded by other horses in front, outside and behind it. A horse that is boxed in is held up and unable to gain a clear passage.
BREAK: To start galloping and lose natural trotting or pacing rhythm. It occurs more with trotters than pacers.
BROODMARE: A female horse, generally retired from racing, used for breeding purposes.
CARD: Another term for program of racing. For example, a person may refer to there being eight races on the card, which simply means eight races will be staged on that particular day.
CATCH-DRIVER: A driver which doesn’t train his or her own horses, and is engaged by other trainers and owners to drive their horses.
CLAIMING RACE: A race where any of the entrants may be claimed (purchased) for a specified amount.
CLASS: The category of racing in which a horse competes, such as a claimer, conditioned event, stake race, etc.
COLOURS: The special colourful jacket worn by drivers when in a race. Unlike Thoroughbred racing, drivers register their own coloi=urs and wear them every time they race.
COLT: A male horse 3 years of age or less.
CONDITIONED RACE: A race where eligibility is based on age, sex, money won, or races won.
For example, “3-year-old fillies, non-winners of $10,000 or 4 races.”
COVER: A horse that races with another horse in front of him is said to race with cover, as the leading horse cuts the wind resistance.
CROSS FIRE: When a horse’s hind foot strikes the opposite front foot or leg.
DAM: The female parent, or mother, of a horse.
DEAD HEAT: A situation in which the judges, using a photograph, cannot separate two or more horses when judging the outcome of a race.
DISTANCED: A horse that is out of touch with the rest of the field at the end of the race. This is often referred to as finished distanced.
DRIVER: The person holding a license or permit to drive harness horses. There are different types of licenses, which correspond to differing levels of experience.
EARLY / LATE CLOSER: A race requiring payments which start much closer to the actual race date than a stake. “Early” and “Late” involve specified periods of time.
FILLY: A female horse 3 years of age or less.
FIRST-OVER: The first horse to make a move on the leader in a race, moving up on the
FOAL: A newly born horse. Also describes the act of a mare giving birth. FREE-LEGGED: A pacer which races without wearing hobbles.
GELDING: A castrated male horse of any age.
HANDICAPPING: The first step in successfully picking a winner (or “handicapping”) is becoming familiar with reading the racing program. Each program has a section explaining the information format used at that particular track. Probably the best place to start when handicapping Standardbreds is time. Since over 99 percent of all harness races are conducted at the one-mile distance, valid comparisons can be made among horses.
HARNESS: The gear which is used to attach the sulky to a horse, to carry the hobbles and to enable the driver to steer the horse.
HOME STRETCH: The straight length of the track, nearest the spectators, where the finish line is situated. It is called this because it is the final part of the track a horse travels down during a race — on its run ‘home’ (or to the finish line).
HOBBLES: The straps which connect the front and rear legs on the same side of a horse. Most pacers wear hobbles to help balance their stride and maintain a pacing gait. The length of hobbles is adjustable, and a trainer registers the length that best suits his or her horse. There are also trotting hobbles that work through a pulley system to help trotters maintain their gait.
HORSE: A male 4 years of age or older.
INQUIRY: Stewards may conduct an inquiry as a result of any incident which may have occurred during a race, to determine whether or not certain drivers and/or horses were responsible for the incident and whether they should receive due punishment.
JOG CART: A cart that is attached to the harness and carries the trainer, and which the horse pulls. Used when horses are training or warming up for a race. It is larger, longer and heavier than a SULKY.
INVITATIONAL: A race for the top horses in the area. Also known as Open or Free-For-All.
LAME: The term used to describe a horse which is limping or has difficulty walking properly.
LEASING: As opposed to buying a harness horse, people have the option of leasing one. Just like some people lease a car instead of paying the money up-front, leasing a horse gives people use of a horse without large capital outlay. An agreement or contract must be drawn up between the two parties, and the lease must be registered with the relevant controlling body.
MAIDEN: A horse which has not yet won a race.
MARE: A female 4 years of age or more.
PARI-MUTUEL RACE: A race in which wagering is allowed, held at a track licensed by a state’s racing commission. Pari-mutuel races are held at licensed pari-mutuel racetracks or fairs.
PARKED: A horse racing on the outside, with at least one horse between it and the inside rail.
PHOTO FINISH: When two horses cross the finish too closely to identify a winner, officials call for a photograph of the race, taken exactly at the finish line, to help them determine who was ahead.
POCKET: A horse in a pocket is unable to obtain a clear run because it has other horses situated in front, behind and to the side of it.
POST POSITION: Generally, the closer a horse starts to the inside rail or barrier of the track, the better is its chance of winning. At the start, horses must either start quickly to get a good position, or else find a place on the rail to avoid racing on the outside of other horses. When racing on the outside the horse is said to be “parked out,” and loses ground on every turn. A horse on the inside has a better chance to get to the rail or quickly get a good position.
QUALIFIER: A race in which a horse must go a mile below an established time standard to prove itself capable of competing in pari-mutuel races.
SCRATCH: A horse that is withdrawn from a race before the start.
SIRE: The male parent, or father, of a horse.
STAKE RACE: A race where owners make a series of payments, starting well in advance, to keep a horse eligible. If an owner misses a payment to a stakes race, the horse becomes ineligible.
STARTER: The person responsible for starting a harness race. The starter controls the start of the race from the back of the mobile vehicle.
SULKY: Also known as the race bike, the sulky is attached to the harness, pulled by the horse, and carries the driver. It is lighter and more streamlined than a JOG CART.
THREE-WIDE: When a horse is two horses out from the rail.
TIME TRIAL: An attempt to have a horse beat its own best time in a long-competitive event. A time trial is not a race. Galloping horses hitched to sulkies, called prompters, are used to push a horse to its best effort.
TOTE BOARD: An electronic board, usually in the infield of a track, which posts the odds, amount of money bet, results of a race and the wagering pay-offs.
WEANLING: A baby horse, up to its first birthday.
YEARLING: Any horse between its first and second birthday.