The Standardbred horse is considered to be the fastest harness horse in the world. Harness racing has been a passion in the United States since the early 1800s. Then, the Morgan horse reigned as the Supreme harness horse. but an event occurring in 1849 ended the Morgan Dynasty. This event was the foaling of a horse named Hambletonian 10, the foundation sire of the Standardbred horse. The breed gains its name from the fact that a horse must meet a certain “standard” of either timed speed at the mile or breeding in order to be properly registered. The increased brilliance of the Standardbred breed itself has reduced times for the mile by a minute – down 30 percent from original record.
In many respects, the Standardbred resembles its ancestor the Thoroughbred. It does not stand as tall averaging 15.2 hands, although it has a longer body. The head is refined, set on a medium-sized neck. The quarters are muscular yet sleek. The clean hind legs are set well back. Individual Standardbreds tend to either trot or pace. This breed appears in varying colors, although bay, brown, and black are predominant. It weights between 800 and 1000 pounds.
The Standardbred traces its ancestry to Messenger, from the Darley Arabian line of Thoroughbreds. He was imported to America in 1788. The Norfolk Trotter also had a strong influence on the early development of the Standardbred. Hambletonian 10, the acknowledged founder of the breed, was foaled in Orange County, new York, on May 5, 1849. he was sired by Abdallah and out of the Charles Kent mare. Hambletonian became a great sire producing a family of harness horses which outdistanced all competition. Ninety percent of all modern Standardbreds trace to him directly. A top race of each season, “The Hamletonian,” bears the great sire’s name.
In 1879, the National Association of Trotting Horse Breeders stipulated the “standards” which a horse must meet in order to be registered as a Standardbred. Among the many great Standardbreds in history, some are of importance as record setters – times which increased the “standard.” in 1867, a gelding named Dexter trotted the mile in 2 minutes 19 seconds. A pacer named Star Pointer reduced the time for the mile to 1:59 1/4 in 1897. In 1907, the immortal Dan Patch paced the mile in 1:56. One of the greatest trotting records was that set by the great gelding Greyhound who did the mile in 1:55 1/4 in 1938. This record lasted for 30 years.
There have been thousands of horses which have contributed to the excellence of the Standardbred. A few of overwhelming distinction are:
Goldsmith Maid — foaled in 1857, this mare had a career spanning 12 years (1865-1877). She won $364,200, a sum not bettered for 54 years. At the remarkable age of 20, she did the mile in 2:14 1/2.
Dan Patch — foaled in 1896, this pacer became a national hero by winning 54 of his 56 races. He set a world record of 2:03 1/4 his last regular race. In an exhibition in 1904, he paced the mile in 1:55 1/4. This record stood for 33 years.
Greyhound — foaled in 1932, this gelding trotted to 25 world records in a career of winning 71 of 82 heats. He died in 1965 at the age of 33, at which time 16 of his records still stood.
Bret Hanover — foaled in 1962, the “Big Bum” as he is known, won 62 of 68 career races, and was voted horse of the year for three consecutive years, 1964-1966. He now stands at stud at Castleton Farm in Kentucky.
Today the male race horse gets an unusual share of attention. But this fact may be explained in that male horses are usually larger and more aggressive than females, and temperament to yield more speed. In the 1800s, however, it was the female which set the records in harness racing. The successive records toward the goal of the 2-minute mile were set by mares. Lady Suffolk was the first to go 2:30. Then Flora Temple did 2:20, followed by Goldsmith Maid at 2:15, Maud S. at below 2:10 and Nancy Hanks at 2:15. Finally, the great mare Lou Dillon did the 2-minute mile in 1903. Thereafter, it became a man’s world. But it was the mares who were first in the search for speed.
4. Narrangansett Pacer
For more information, contact:
The United States Trotting Association
750 Michigan Ave
Columbus, OH 43215