There are approximately 90 Group 1 level harness races in Australia and New Zealand each year, with over 110 registered tracks in Australia alone. We've highlighted some of most high profile races on the annual racing calendar below.
The Grand Circuit is the elite-level for pacers and the following list of major harness races in Australia and New Zealand relates to pacers only.
The Inter Dominion Championship is the pinnacle of harness racing in Australia. It was first held at Gloucester Park, Western Australia, in 1936 when captured by Logan Derby in a mile rate of 2:12.0 over 12 furlongs. Horses compete in heats before a certain number successfully qualify for the Grand Final. In modern times, three heats are held in the space of one week before the Grand Final takes place a week later. Blacks A Fake is the most successful Inter Dominion winner having claimed the series on a record four occasions in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010. The Inter Dominion is held in both Australia and New Zealand, with Australian states taking turns to host the series.
The Miracle Mile differs from the Inter Dominion in a few ways. Firstly, it is a single race and not a series, but does still have several races where horses can earn a guaranteed spot in the race. Secondly, it is held over a mile, as the name suggests, and not a staying distance like the Inter Dominion. Menangle is the current home of the Miracle Mile which allows for fast mile rates. 2018 Miracle Mile winner My Field Marshal holds the race record with a mile rate of 1:46.9. The honour roll showcases plenty of harness racing greats including Mount Eden, Paleface Adios, Pure Steel, Popular Alm, Preux Chevalier, Village Kid, Westburn Grant, Chokin, Our Sir Vancelot, Christian Cullen, Monkey King, Smoken Up and Lennytheshark.
The New Zealand Trotting Cup, often shortened to New Zealand Cup or NZ Cup, is one of the biggest races on the harness racing calendar. A standing-start race held over two miles (3200m) at Addington, the race dates back to 1904. Three horses have won the race three times with Terror To Love the most recent between 2011-13. False Step won between 1958-60 and Indianapolis between 1934-36. Ricky May, the driver of Terror To Love has won the race a record seven times. Only two female drivers have won the Cup with Kerryn Manning also training Arden Rooney in 2015 and Natalie Rasmussen co-training Thefixer in 2018 alongside Mark Purdon.
The AG Hunter Cup has predominantly been a standing-start race but that changed in 2017 and it is now a mobile start. Dating back to 1949, the Hunter Cup has been held over a variety of distances. One common theme is that it is a staying race and the current format is held at Melton over 2760m. The race record for mobile versions goes to Tiger Tara who rated a mile rate of 1:53.2 in 2018. Champion WA pacer Pure Steel is best-known for three wins in the Hunter Cup in 1977, 1978 and 1980. Notable winners of stand versions off a big handicap include Ribands who won the 1954 edition off 48 yards (almost 44m). Blossom Lady won off 30m in 1995 and Blacks A Fake won in 2008 off the same handicap.
The Victoria Cup in its current format is basically the AG Hunter Cup, except staged over 2240m. It is held at Melton and is the main middle-distance race in Australasia. The first Victoria Cup was run in 1974 when captured by Kings Mead. Lazarus holds the race record which he recorded in 2017 with a 1:52.5 mile rate. Koala King made the race his own between 1978-80 by winning three consecutive times for driver Brian Hancock. Prizemoney for the race has dwindled, with the 2017 and 2018 editions worth $200,000.
The WA Pacing Cup has been around for a long time with the race dating back to 1913. It is currently held at Gloucester Park and run over 2936m. The WA Pacing Cup is a leg of the Grand Circuit, although the race doesn’t attract too many interstate horses these days unless Perth is hosting the Inter Dominion. It is held as a mobile start and carried $450,000 in prizemoney in 2019. Trainer Gary Hall Snr has dominated the WA Pacing Cup for more than a decade with 11 wins as of 2019.
The Auckland Cup has a long history with the inaugural running held in 1890 over three miles. Since 2016, the Auckland Cup has been held as a standing-start event over 3200m at Alexandra Park. Australian horses rarely venture over for the Auckland Cup, with Im Themightyquinn winning in 2011 and 2013. Trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen could have a stranglehold on the Auckland Cup for some time with the All Stars duo winning between 2016-18. The majority of Group 1 winners in New Zealand are prepared by Purdon and Rasmussen who could continue their dominance in the Auckland Cup for many years to come.
Albion Park hosts The Blacks A Fake Queensland Championship, previously known as the Queensland Pacing Championship. Named after Queensland’s champion pacer Blacks A Fake, a four-time Inter Dominion winner and two-time winner of the Queensland Pacing Championship in 2008 and 2009. The race carries $200,000 in prize money and takes place over a staying distance of 2680m. The honour roll boasts some of harness racing’s greatest horses and the race is generally either the first or last leg of the Grand Circuit.
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