About Racing

/About Racing
About Racing 2017-07-12T23:41:02+00:00

Welcome. Below you’ll find answers to common questions we hear regarding the sport itself. There are also some helpful visuals, please email info@grandriverraceway.com if you have any questions or concerns.

General FAQ >>

Racing FAQ

Thoroughbred Racing: use Jockeys on top of the horses. Distances run from 300 yards to 2.5 miles. Distance is measured in furlongs. Horses leave a stationary Starting Gate at the beginning of the race at the same time.

Harness Racing: Drivers ride “a cart” behind the horse. Races are a mile. Horses compete in Trotting or Pacing races. Horses “leave” or start from a moving Starting gate for a “flying” start, which plays into the strategy of the race. Typically the preferred starting gate positions at GRAND River Raceway for pacers are 1, 5, 4, 3, 2, 7, 9, 6, 8 and for trotters 1, 4, 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 7, 8 positions or “Holes”. (Published results on Day 46 of the meet. (2014)).

The Standardbred races here. The Standardbred or Harness Horse is a horse breed best known for its ability in harness racing at a trot or pace. This breed can be traced to 18th century bloodlines in England. The breed is known worldwide. They are solid, well built horses with good dispositions.

Standardbred horses tend to be more muscled and have longer bodies than the Thoroughbred. They are more placid which better suits a professional race that involves driver strategy and high speeds. They are people-oriented horses.

These horses are typically between 800 and 1000 pounds (360 to 450 Kg). They are well defined and muscles are long and heavy which helps with long strides. Their legs are muscular and solid and are generally very tough and durable.

The difference is simply how the horse moves it’s legs. The trot is a type of gait where the horses legs move in diagonal pairs; when the right foreleg moves to the front, so does the left hind leg. The pace is a two-beat lateral gait; pacers forelegs move in unison with the hind legs on the same side. Their ability to trot or pace is linked to a single gene.






They are called Drivers as they are strategizing and steering the horse. Unlike Jockeys in Thoroughbred racing, there are no mandatory weight restrictions placed on Standardbred drivers. While most of the top drivers in the sport would be considered light on average 140-160lbs or 65-73kg, many successful drivers can approach or exceed 200lbs or 91kg!

The driver sits behind the horse on a “sulky” or a “race bike” during the race. The average weight of a sulky is 65lbs or 30 kgs. Most horses will warm-up in a “jogger” or training cart approximately 90 minutes prior to their race. (these are typically much heavier than a sulky)

This are called hopples (sometimes misspelled hobbles). They are connected loops used to help the horse maintain its gait. The size of the hopples is dictated by the length of a horses stride. Hopples are worn by pacers on all four legs while some trotters will wear half hopples on their front legs only.

When a horse “breaks stride”, it stops pacing or trotting and starts galloping (or running). This is forbidden in a race and drivers must ease their horse back into a pace or trot before continuing to race. Hence the term, “My horse made a break” or “My horse broke.” Sometimes you’ll hear, “my horse ran” or “he started running at the ½” etc.

Racehorses are on a scientifically developed diet. The majority of their diet is grass and/or hay and grain combination. A racehorse is given grains similar to an athlete to provide the additional caloric intake required for the extensive training requirements. Also similar to other professional athletes, they receive vitamin and nutritional supplements.

The most competitive race horses love to race. Trainers and Drivers will say that you can tell that they know it is race day. They feel good and are excited to get out on the race track. All Standardbreds are not destined to be great racehorses. Fortunately Standardbreds are very versatile and transition very well into other equestrian disciplines such as, dressage, 3 day eventing, jumping, roping/cutting, barrel racing, trail/saddle horse or even just as a great companion animal. The Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society (OSAS) is the place to go when you’re looking for a retired Ontario Standardbred.

Yes. They know the routine. They are creatures of habit and are aware of a change in routine. When they win, they go to the Winner’s Circle to appreciate the cheers of the crowd. They feel the excitement of the crowd, grooms, owners and trainers.

There are stable bandages that horses will wear while in the paddock or in their stalls to provide additional protection for the soft leg tissues. There are also racing bandages which are designed to provide additional support and protection while training or racing.

Driver/trainer uniforms are referred to as “Colours”. Unlike Thoroughbred Racing, where Jockeys wear the colours of the stable or owners, Standardbred trainers and drivers wear colours that represent their own personal brand. Drivers and Trainers have personal brands and colours. Owners do not have colours in this Harness Racing Sport.

The Standardbred horse is bred to race. In 1879 the U.S. based Association of Trotting Horse Breeders formed the foundational Standardbred breeding registry. Registration required the horse to be capable of “the Standard” by covering one mile at the trot or pacing gait in two minutes and thirty seconds. Hence the term “Standardbred”. Modern Standardbred horses are recognised as a distinct breed and you are a Standardbred horse by virtue of your mother (Dam) and father (Sire) being Standardbred horses.

  • Similar to any professional athlete, there are levels of training.
  • The first is stable training: how to go about their day from working around people, having their feet picked up, getting accustomed to cleaning out their stalls, farm equipment and noises in the stable.
  • Then there is race training. This starts out with the horse being introduced to a harness and jog cart and learning to slowly jog miles to build the fitness foundation required to train for faster efforts that will ultimately prepare them for racing. The demands of racing, include physical and psychological fitness.
  • Having reached sufficient fitness levels, the horse must perform timed qualifying races (marked “qua” in the program) in front of judges to prove that they can safely traverse the race track, from the starting gate, with other race horses, at a speed approaching competitive race times. These horses must demonstrate that it is not just about being fast enough, but they need to be safe too.
  • Then they are ready for race day. Standardbred horses can race all 12 months of the year making it an exciting year round professional sport to enjoy.

Racing 101

BOXED IN: A horse that is racing on the rail and 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 the natural trotting or
pacing rhythm. This occurs more often with trotters than
CARD: Another term for a program of racing. For example,
a person may refer to there being twelve races on the card,
which simply means twelve races will be staged on that
particular day.
CATCH DRIVER: A driver which does not train his or her
own horses, and is engaged by other trainers to drive their
CLAIMING RACE: A race where any of the entrants may
be claimed (purchased) for a specified amount.
COLOURS: The colorful suit (also called “silks”) worn by
drivers/trainers. Unlike Thoroughbred racing, the drivers/
trainers register their own colors and wear them every time
they race.
COLT: A male 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 colts who are non-winners of $10,000 lifetime 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.
DEAD HEAT: A situation in which the judges cannot
separate two or more horses when judging the outcome
of a race. This race is declared a tie (Dead Heat).
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”.
FIRST-OVER: The first horse to make a move on the leader
in a race, moving up on the outside.
FREE LEGGED: A pacer which races without wearing
HOME STRETCH: The straight length of the track, nearest
the spectators, heading toward the finish line. It is called
this because it is the final part of the track a horse travels
down on its way ‘home’ (or the finish line).

HOPPLES: The straps which connect the front and rear
legs on the same side of a horse. Most pacers wear
hopples to help balance their stride and maintain a pacing
gait. The length of hopples is adjustable and a trainer
registers the length that best suits his or her horse. There
are also trotting hopples that work through a pulley system
to help trotters maintain their gait.
INQUIRY: Judging officials 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.
PACER: Are horses whose legs move in a lateral motion,
meaning the two legs on the same side of the body move
in unison. For example both right legs move forward as
both left legs are going back.
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 which nose is ahead.
POCKET: A horse in a pocket is unable to obtain a clear
path because it has other horses situated in front, behind
and to the side of it.
POST TIME: Start of the race.
QUALIFIER: A race in which a horse must contest a mile
below an established time standard to prove itself capable
of competing in pari-mutuel races.
STANDARDBRED: The breed of horse which competes
in harness races.
SULKY: Also known as the cart or racebike, the sulky is
attached to the harness and carries the driver.
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.
TROTTER: Horses whose legs on the opposite side of
the body move at the same time. For example the right
front and left rear move forward as the left front and right
rear move back.