Harness Racing Basics For Beginners

Betting on harness racing can be a fun and invigorating alternative to standard track racing. Not only do horses race at a specific gait – trotting or pacing – but they’re usually out there on the track pulling a wagon-style card fitted with two wheels only, and which is “handled” and occupied by a driver. The cart is typically referred to as a “sulky”.

Just like standard track racing, harness racing offers several exciting opportunities to the horse racing enthusiast. Herewith then, a summary of the basics of harness racing tailored for the beginner sports bettor.

The Horse Breeds

The breeds used for harness racing vary depending on region. In North America, harness races are open solely to Standardbred horses only, while in most parts of Europe, Russian trotters and French trotters are also permitted to compete.

The reason Standardbred horses are the preferred breed in many parts of the harness racing world is the length of their legs. Proportionally shorter than the legs of Thoroughbred horses, and also with longer bodies in general, Standardbred horses are exceptionally well equipped for trotting as well as pacing.

A trotter moves it legs diagonally and in pairs, while a pacer moves its legs laterally. Pacers are naturally much faster, and less likely to interrupt the flow of the stride, which is an important consideration for bettors interested in wagering on harness racing. The reason for this is once a horse starts breaking into a gallop, that horse will have to be slowed down or even steered aside until such time as pacing or trotting has resumed. This can obviously lead to a waste of valuable time under race-conditions.

About Gaits

The trot is a horse’s natural gait. For this reason, a horse will naturally break into a trot whenever it is prompted to increase the speed of forward motion.

Many beginner bettors are confused by this logic – assuming pacing to be the riskier business of the two because of what the word “pace” suggests. But the reality is that pacing isn’t a natural gait for a horse – a horse has to be taught how to pace.

Another reason pacers aren’t likely to break stride has to do with their footwear. Pacers are made to wear hopples (or hobbles), which are straps connected to their legs. Since pacers move both legs on the same side of a horse in a specific direction at the same time, hopples help pacers to do what they’ve been taught to do – which is to pace.

Helpful Hints When Starting Out

Now that you’re armed with the basics of how harness racing is managed and how trotting relates to pacing, it would be a good idea for you to familiarise yourself with a few basic techniques and habits that will help you become a successful harness racing bettor.

Herewith then, a short summary to see you on your way:

  • Get comfortable with doing your homework. Read everything you can get your hands on about harness racing, and even horse racing in general.
  • Start small and experiment with different kinds of bets.
  • Shop around. Look for value.
  • Manage your bankroll. Work on a budget. This will help your available cash last longer, as well as ensure you don’t overlap into your bigger monthly budget for essentials like rent, food, a mortgage, etc.