Yes, I know our game is about thoroughbred racing, but for those who want to experience something fun and different and actually get behind a horse, may I suggest you sit in a sulky and get behind a standardbred. They are so much fun to drive and not that difficult.
I've been to several farms out in Coltsneck, NJ, where they train both pacers and trotters. Both are standardbreds - the difference of whether they are a pacer or a trotter depends upon the motion of their legs. Trotters move legs forward and diagonally - the left hind to the right front. The pacers move the two legs on each side simultaneously in a lateral motion. Trotters are a little more difficult to keep on gait and require a little more skill, especially when going high speeds. If you're lucky enough to live near a standardbred training facility, then I suggest going in the early morning and watching these horses jog and train. If you get lucky, you might get one of the caretakers to give you a ride on the sulky and maybe let you take the horse for a spin on your own.
I'm not going to write about all the different aspects of the sport, but I thought I'd highlight some key differences between standardbred racing and thoroughbred racing. Just to get the record straight, I enjoy betting on thoroughbreds a lot more, but from a participation standpoint where I can actually be hands-on, I'm quite intrigued by what harness racing offers. It can be very hands-on.
Drivers are comparable to jockeys, but they do not sit on the horse but behind the horse in what is commonly known as a racing bike (sulky). Though drivers do have a tendency to be smaller and lighter than the average person, your top drivers can weigh in excess of 160 pounds, where your top jockeys can only weigh 110 or thereabouts.
Except for very rare circumstances, 99% of all harness races in the United States are at the distance of one mile. Thoroughbred racing can be anything from a half-mile up to two miles. In addition, thoroughbred racing takes place on multiple surfaces. Harness racing requires a hard surface. Thoroughbred tracks tend to be deep providing a good cushion for the horses.
Horses that participate in harness racing can race as much as five times as many starts per year as a typical thoroughbred. There are numerous reasons why. The standardbred itself is a sturdier breed, whereas the thoroughbred is bred for speed and is more fragile.
The standard bred hits the ground two legs at a time. A thoroughbred hits the ground one leg at a time, creating a much greater opportunity for injuries.
The thoroughbred travels faster - up to 10 miles an hour faster at peak speed.
The thoroughbred carries the direct weight of the jockey or rider on his back, whereas in harness racing the weight is carried behind the horse and dragged.
Standardbreds are less prone to injuries, or at least career-ending ones.
Standardbreds have shorter legs and longer bodies than thoroughbreds.
Harness racing is more of a strategic sport and the horses have a tendency to make multiple moves or bursts during a race, therefore standardbreds have a greater re-acceleration process than traditional thoroughbreds.
Thoroughbreds start from a dead stop and require immediate acceleration, where standardbreds actually start from a moving gate.
There are many other differences between the two types of racing and the two breeds. Like I said before, harness racing is almost more family-involved. The trainer, driver and owner can be the same person. I don't think I've ever seen that in thoroughbred racing. North America harness racing has made a little comeback in recent years because of purse supplementation through jurisdictions that allow slot machines. Facilities that have both racing and casino activities, such as slot machines, have been nicknamed "racinos".
I know a lot of horse owners, both standardbred and thoroughbred. The thoroughbred owners love big crowds and the fact that their sport gets more recognition. The standardbred guys love the hands-on participation and the fact that the horse tends to race more consistently and have less interruptions due to injuries.
One of my favorite times when I was younger was attending thoroughbred racing during the day and harness racing at night.
Obviously our game is all about thoroughbreds. People have asked why don't we create a game for harness racing. And, as sad as it is, the reason is simple. There is just not enough of a market for a standardbred game. Their audience is substantially smaller than thoroughbred racing.