Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The following questions and answers pertain primarily to North American tracks, and most Canadian tracks.

Do trotters and pacers race against one another?

Almost never, although sometimes they will put trotters and pacers in a Qualifying race if there are not enough horses to fill a race.

Do men drivers compete against women drivers?

There is no sexual discrimination, although there are fewer female drivers than men.

Do they always race Standardbreds one mile?

Most Standardbred races are one mile. They have experimented with shorter distances, but they did not seem to be popular. There is a small percentage of races that are raced at distances longer than one mile. These races are usually 1 1/8, 1 ¼, and 1 ½ miles.

Why are racetracks only open a few months and/or days each year?

Each individual state government only allows the state license holder (racetrack) a certain number of racing days per year.

I noticed that harness drivers, unlike Thoroughbred jockeys, wear the same color shirts and/or jackets all the time. Why is that?

Jockeys wear the “silks” of the stable that owns the horse they are racing. Harness racing drivers register their personal colors that they wear in each race. Occasionally a driver will wear the colors of the stable who owns the horse.

Are Standardbred race horses kept at the racetrack or at training farms.

Nowadays most horses are kept at training centers located away from the racetrack and the horses must be transported on the day of the race. At one time most racetracks catered to the horsemen by providing barns, paddocks, training equipment, etc., but immediately following casinos purchasing the racetracks in a savvy business exploitation in a back-door way to operate their casinos, they tore down the barns. Hauling manure and maintaining barns is much costlier than setting a slot machine in a 4’x4’ space. A few tracks still have barns, but that may be temporary. Horses that are coming in from training centers to race are referred to as ship-ins.

When harness racing drivers lay straight back in the sulky, are they trying to hold the horse back to keep the horse from winning?

No. The race bike is designed aerodynamically to take the weight off the horse when the driver lays back, allowing the horse to go faster.

How often can a Standardbred be raced?

That depends on each individual horse. Two-year-olds should only be raced about every other week and only about a dozen times in its first year of racing. Three-year-olds are usually able to race weekly and can be raced a couple dozen times in each year because they have matured physically and mentally. Older horses can race every week and sometimes twice a week if the trainer pays very close attention to the welfare of the animal., but once a week is preferred. Forty times a year is about average. NOTE: All horses should be given at least a week of rest in a green grass field after it races 4 or 6 times. Common sense and compassion for the animal is a great guideline.

Do Standardbreds reach an age when they must be retired?

Yes, they can race through 13 years of age. Standardbred horses cannot race past the age of 14 unless the governing body of the state extends it to 14.

I notice the horses coming on to the racetrack before a race from the same building. What is that building called and what is in there?

The building is the Paddock. The horse, with all his equipment, is walked from the ship-in barn to the paddock by its groom or the trainer three to four races before its scheduled race. After the horse, with the groom or trainer, is checked into the paddock, the horse and the groom will not be allowed to leave the paddock area – nor will the horse be allowed to stand unattended. Before the race, the Paddock Judge will identify the horse by inspecting the horse’s tattoo. While all of this is taking place, the groom is equipping the horse with what is necessary for a warm-up.
Approximately 45 minutes to an hour before the actual race, the horse will be taken onto the track (usually by the trainer who must be in full colors) for a warm-up mile or jogged around the track a few times to: 1. Loosen his muscles. 2. Be checked by the trainer for soundness. 3. Viewed by the betting public.
While the trainer has the horse on the track, the groom will scurry to fill wash buckets, fill the horse’s drinking bucket, prepare the racing equipment, shoveling the manure, etc. If the groom needs to use the restroom, he/she is out of luck.
After the trainer brings the horse back into the paddock the horse’s bridle will be removed, the harness will be loosened or removed, it will be sponged or bathed, and blanketed to keep its muscles warm. Small sips of water will be offered.
Approximately 15 minutes before the horses go out for the race, the groom will equip the horse with everything it needs to race, which includes tightening the harness, putting the bridle on, tying its tongue, putting the race bike on, and making sure the race numbers are secure. Lastly, the blankets are removed. Drivers will generally come to their respective horse for any last-minute instruction (if any) from the trainer. The horse is ready to compete.
At this time, the groom can go to the restroom, but they must be quick because they are expected to be trackside in case they are needed.

Where do the horses go after a race?

Depending on the racetrack and the state, usually the first two finishers go back to the paddock where urine and blood samples are collected for testing. This takes place in an area referred to as “the spit box.” The blood and urine are tested in a lab to detect the use of illegal drugs, which could have been introduced by the trainer. There may be an occasion where a horse is specialed, which means although it was not first or second, the judges still want to collect urine and blood. The remaining horses go to their respective ship-in barns or their respective stall where they are bathed, given water, fed, rewarded etc.

What are the percentage payouts (purse distribution) for a race?

The following are the usual percentage payouts. County fairs may be different, but these will be the percentages for most races and racetracks.
1st place receives 50% of the purse.
2nd place receives 25% of the purse.
3rd place receives 12% of the purse.
4th place receives 8% of the purse.
5th place receives 5% of the purse.

What is the difference between a Jog Cart and a Race Bike?

The jog cart is longer and narrower than a sulky/race bike, and it is used primarily for daily exercising and slow training. It is also more comfortable than a sulky.
The Sulky is also referred to as the race bike. It is shorter in length and is aerodynamically designed for speed. It also allows the driver to lay back taking the weight off the horse. It is used for fast training miles and in races.

Do Standardbreds reach an age when they must be retired?

Yes, they can race through 13 years of age. Standardbred horses cannot race past the age of 14 unless the governing body of the state extends it to 14.

What is the difference between a trotter and a pacer?

A trotters’ legs move diagonally, meaning the right front leg and the left hind leg go forward simultaneously, and the left front and right hind go forward at simultaneously. About 2/3 of trotters now wear hobbles to steady their gait. Trotting hobbles are a recent (year 2000) invention.
Pacers have a lateral gait, meaning the pacers’ right front leg and the right hind leg move forward simultaneously, and the left front leg moves forward simultaneously with the left hind leg. Pacers generally wear hobbles that steady their gate when going at high rates of speed. Pacing hobbles have been around almost since pacing races began.

What is the training regime for a Standardbred race horse?

There are many variables involved in this. A yearling will usually be trained differently than an aged horse. To get a good answer I suggest you refer to one or all three (I believe there were three) editions of The Care and Training of the Trotter and Pacer. Although out of print, they can be found for sale on the Internet.
Different trainers train differently. However, the rule of thumb is a horse is generally “jogged” 4 or 5 miles a day before being put back into its stall. That same horse is probably trained 1 to 3 trips twice a week. Fifty years ago, trainers sometimes would train a horse as many as 10 times a day, depending on the trainer’s stupidity.
I once bought a six-year-old mare that was racing mediocre because she had a mediocre trainer and a mediocre driver. The trainer had been training the mare the “traditional” way and as soon as I trained her, I could tell she was sour. So, rather than train her, I kept her in a field with a couple other horses and brought her in the day before the race and trained her one trip in 2:25, last half in 1:08, and the last ¼ in 30 seconds. She won four straight and was claimed from me. The new trainer went back to the traditional way, and she never raced good again. A few months later he bred her.
The point of my story is to inform you that there is no right or wrong way to train a racehorse. Each horse is an individual and each needs a creative trainer who can develop a personalized regime for each horse. That is the difference between the men and the boys when it comes to successfully training a race horse.

What are Entry Fees?

There are no fees associated with entering your horse into most races. However, if your horse is stakes eligible and you have been making payments prior to the stakes race on a regular basis, there will probably be a final stake payment that must be made to enter the race.

What are the risks involved with race horse ownership?

Many financial risks. Owning racehorses is expensive. The rewards are few and far in between, but if you love horses and competition, it may be worth it.

How much does it cost to take care of a race horse?

That varies from trainer to trainer. In this year (2018) it will probably range from $2000. a month to $6000. Month depending on many variables.

Are veterinarian services needed often?

Yes, yes, and yes. The physical demands placed on race horses is tremendous, so the trainer will work closely with a veterinarian(s) to safeguard the health and soundness of the horse. This is very expensive, and many trainers are in no hurry to safeguard your pocketbook. Nor are the veterinarians.

Are their advantages of buying yearlings instead of horses that are currently racing?

Primarily yearlings offer dreams. A yearling presents more risks than an older horse. Stakes racing when a horse is two and/or three years old (if they make it that far, and if they are competitive) can be lucrative and exciting. There is also the rare, yet possible, potential that a yearling can become very valuable if it is ultra-successful and is used or sold for breeding purposes (a part of the dream). However, the risks with yearlings are extraordinary because their potential is unknown.

When does a yearling’s training begin?

Most trainers begin to educate their yearlings in September or October following all of the yearling sales.

Does the size of a driver affect his/her ability?

This has been debated for decades, but I do not believe there is a scientific answer. Some claim that because the horse is moving when the race begins, coupled with the fact the driver is sitting over the wheels that a larger driver would not handicap the horse. There are a few who believe a bigger driver will help the horse because of the momentum from his weight, plus his weight when distributed over the back of the sulky would provide lift.
Personally, I prefer a small, more agile driver. The first one that comes to mind is Jim Marohn, Jr., who is a lightweight and an excellent driver.