I know a bunch about Thoroughbred racing, but Harness racing… not so much. In a recent quest to expand my knowledge, I had the opportunity to connect with the Saratoga Harness Horseperson’s Association who provided me with a memorable introduction into the world of Standardbred horses and Harness racing.
Tucked away near Saratoga Lake lies Stark Racing Stables, a gorgeous home to several Standardbred horses that race minutes away at Saratoga Casino and Raceway. The ride to the stables was absolutely picturesque, featuring multiple stables, a full practice harness track, and a huge pond “pool” for the horses to exercise in.
I was incredibly grateful to the team at Baker Public Relations who made this entire experience possible. They introduced me to Tom McTygue, the President of the Saratoga Harness Horseperson’s Association, (SHHA) who explained a bit more about the mission of their association and took me on a tour of the grounds… which included a lot of horse snuggles!
What does the Saratoga Harness Horseperson’s Association do? Their mission is to promote the welfare of the sport of Harness racing across the United States & Canada, but specifically in the Saratoga Springs region. The association is comprised of Owners, Breeders, Trainers, Drivers, and Caretakers. I’m always in support of organizations that value the welfare of these majestic animals. To have the opportunity to see firsthand how well the horses are taken care of at Stark Stables was truly a special experiences.
Take a look at some of the photos below from my experience:
If you couldn’t tell…I was in all of my glory. I literally was frolicking in the fields with a Mare and her nursing foal. I was given the reigns to many other Standardbreds as well as a Clydesdale! One thing that people very close to me know is that I have a goal of owning a miniature pony. Well, I want a regular sized one too… but when I saw that tiny little unicorn I damn near lost my mind. She almost came home with me!
After a few hours of meeting the horses and (kissing them all goodbye), I ventured over to the Saratoga Casino Hotel and Raceway along with my friend Josalynn & Baker Public Relations to watch a few live races.
It’s clear there are visible differences between Harness racing and Thoroughbred racing. Here were a few things that I found interesting:
- The stand out difference is the “sulky,” which is the cart with two wheels that is attached to the horse.
- Races start from behind a motorized starting gate in which the horses line up behind and it leads them to the starting line. The gate slowly folds up and speeds away from the horses on the track once it reaches the starting line.
- There is a reason they call them Trotters. Pace is important. Harness racing requires maintaining a trot and if the horse begins to gallop it can lead to disqualification from the race.
- Races are run at a distance of 1 mile. With the combo of the trot and the distance, the race lasts much longer than Thoroughbred Races.
- The recovery time for Standardbred horses is much faster than that of Thoroughbreds. A horse can be entered in a race weekly, where in Thoroughbred Racing there is typically a lay off of about three weeks between races.
I can’t express my gratitude to SHHA, Stark Stables and Baker Public Relations for an amazing crash course in Harness racing. It definitely provided me with a totally different perspective of Harness racing and I look forward to learning more about this side of the Equine world!