Harness Racing Glossary

There are many common terms used in harness racing that may not make sense to those new to the sport. Our harness racing glossary will help you understand what some of the key terminology means.

Harness racing glossary: key harness racing terms and what they mean

Bell Lap: The final lap in a race is called the bell lap. As runners approach the finishing post with one circuit remaining, a bell will be rung.

Choked Down: Some horses will drop out of a race very quickly and it can often be the case that the horse has choked down. A horse that is racing fiercely and trying to be restrained is a prime candidate for a horse that could choke down. Sometimes they will be retired from the race and in more extreme cases, the horse can fall as it loses consciousness.

Claimers: Claiming races are races where any horse in the event can be purchased by making a bid at the designated price. A horse entered into a claiming race, may often be known as a claimer, and will have a price attached to them. Say $9,000. This means any person can make a bid at the $9,000 price. If they are the only bidder, they will have purchased the horse following the race. Otherwise, the successful bidder will be randomly chosen if multiple bidders are interested in a claimer.

Death Seat: The position outside of the leader is commonly referred to as the ‘death seat.’ The horse that is leading the one-wide line, that is the line of horses that is one horse off the pegs, is said to be facing the breeze or racing in the death seat. It takes a strong horse to be able to win from this position.

Driver: The person that steers the horse is called a driver. They are the equivalent of a jockey in horse racing, except they sit in a sulky which is behind the horse, as opposed to sitting in a saddle atop the horse. Unlike horse racing, there are no weight limits and drivers can be all different heights and weights.

Free For All: The best horses are considered Free For All horses. They can also be called open-class horses and will often race in M0+ races or FFA events. These horses can only race in this class as they have raced through the grades and are ineligible for lower-class racing.

Free Legged: Most pacers will wear hopples to help them pace, but a small few are capable of racing without them. These horses will be said to be free legged as they don’t wear hopples in pacing events. This is not to be confused with a trotter racing against the pacers which is allowed, but not the other way around.

Gait: The way a horse moves its legs is said to be its gait. There are two gaits in harness racing. Pacers will move their legs laterally which means the front left and rear left will move together, as will the front right and rear right. For trotting, they move diagonally with the front left and rear right moving together and the front right and rear left moving together.

Galloping: A horse that is galloping, is said to break gait, or break stride. It occurs more often with trotters than pacers and drivers must grab hold and lose ground while a horse is galloping. Their goal is to get the horse back into their gait.

Gross Time: The overall time for a race. The Gross Time will be used to calculate the Mile Rate for the race.

Held Up: When looking at a form guide, you will often see the term held up, or held up for a clear run. This means that the horse didn’t have clear running in the home straight and was stuck behind another horse in the run to the finishing post.

Hopples: Leather straps that connect the front and rear legs on the same side of the horse. This allows them to pace and is worn by pacers. The average length is around 58 inches and permission must be sought when changing the length of hopples. It will often be noted as a gear change when a hopple length change has occurred.

Last Half: The final 800m of a race, which is the third and final quarter combined, is the last half.

Last Quarter: The last quarter or final quarter, is the last 400m of a race. A quick last quarter generally indicates the race was run slower in the earlier stages, while a very slow last quarter could mean they ran hard throughout and the field was tired in the concluding stages.

Leader: The leader in a race is the horse that leads the field on the pegs. It is the best position in harness racing and has the highest winning strike rate; 40% or more of leaders win at most harness racing tracks.

Lead Time: One of the key sectional components is the lead time. It is the time taken from the start of the race to reach the one-mile mark. For example, a race over 2400m, the lead time is calculated from the beginning of the 2400m starting point to 1609m.

Mile Rate: A standard time measurement for harness racing that reverts back to a mile. Races run over more than a mile are calculated based on the actual distance of the race and converted as if the race were run over a mile. This means on average that the mile rate will be slower for longer distance races. To calculate a mile rate, you take the gross race time, multiply by 1609 and divide by the distance of the race in metres.

Mobile Start: A mobile barrier, or vehicle, with two folding arms attached, is used in mobile start races which are the most common in Australia. Horses will score up in two lines behind the mobile which travels around 45-48 km/h. The front row and second row (or back row) if there are enough starters in the race.

ODM: ODM stands for ‘out of draw in mobile starts.’ This applies to horses that gallop away from the start of a mobile race. Horses will either have to re-qualify from the mobile in order to be drawn in the field (they do this in trials), or they can start ODM which means they will get the outside barrier on the front row. This position rarely has a horse trailing it so risky beginners will often be ODM so that if they gallop out again, they won’t interfere with another runner.

ODS: ODS stands for ‘out of draw in standing starts.’ It is the same as ODM, except a horse will have the outside of the handicap that it has been assigned. For example, an ODS horse off a 20m handicap, will have the outside of the 20m handicap.

One-Out-One-Back: Sometimes shortened to be called one-one, this position is the horse that races behind the death seat horse. That means they are one horse off the pegs and one horse back.

Pacers: Almost all pacers wear hopples, and this helps them to remain in their gait and not gallop. Pacers move both sides of their body in unison. That means they move their front left and rear left at the same time, and the same for their right side.

Pegs: Horses racing closest to the rubber pegs on the inside of the track are said to be racing on the pegs. It is the shortest way home with these horses saving the most ground during a race. They often require luck to receive clear running later in a race.

Quarters: There are four quarters that are recorded in harness racing. From the mile point onwards, the four quarters are broken down into 400m splits – first quarter, second quarter, third quarter and fourth/final/last quarter. Analysing quarters will help show how the race was run.

Rated: Sometimes you will hear a horse rated 1:57.5. This means that they recorded a 1:57.5 mile rate.

Reinsman/Reinswoman: A substitute word for driver.

Squaregaiters: Another term to describe trotters.

Standardbred: The breed of horse used in harness racing are called standardbreds. They are smaller than thoroughbreds which race in horse racing, but they often have a more relaxed temperament. Their durability and versatility are another key-trait with harness racing horses able to race weekly, or sometimes two or three times in a week. They can race over distances between 1200m up to 3200m with many of them capable of racing over 1609m one week and 2700m the next.

Standing Start: Horses will begin the race standing stationary behind elastic barrier tapes. This is the best method for handicapping harness races with each handicap being an increment of 10m. It requires a great amount of skill to perfect horses to step quickly and safely from the standing-start so that they don’t gallop away when the tapes are released.

Sulky: Drivers sit in sulkies which can also be known as a bike, cart, or gig. The common sulky weighs around 25-30kg and has two high-tech carbon fibre wheels. Unfortunately, some sulky wheels will go flat during a race if contact is made and you will see the term flat tyre in Stewards’ comments.

Three-wide Train: Most harness races in Australia will be run in two lines. Pegs horses will race on the inside of the moving line, or one-wide line. Later in a race, a third line often begins with horses making runs from back in the field. This is sometimes known as the three-wide train or two-wide line.

Trotters: Trotting is the natural gait for a standardbred. In Australia, pacers are more common than trotters. A trotter will move diagonally with the front left and rear right moving together and the front right and rear left moving together.

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