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Standardbred Breed Information

What is a Standardbred?

The origins of the Standardbred trace back to Messenger, an English Thoroughbred foaled in 1780, and later exported to the United States. Messenger was the great-grandsire of Hambletonian 10, to whom every Standardbred can trace its heritage. Standardbreds are a relatively new breed, dating back just over 200 years, but it is a true American breed.

The name "Standardbred" originated because the early trotters (pacers would not come into the picture until much later) were required to reach a certain standard for the mile distance in order to be registered as part of the new breed. The mile is still the standard distance covered in nearly every harness race.

While Thoroughbred racing has long been known as the sport of kings, the dependable, athletic Standardbred brought racing to the common man, first between neighbors on community roads, and later at state-of-the-art racetracks.

Standardbred racing has long been known as the sport of the people, and both the sport and the breed are as much a part of our American landscape as cowboys and apple pie. As it evolved it gave the United States some of its first "sports heroes," including the great Dan Patch, the legendary Adios and the great gray ghost, Greyhound.

Breed Characteristics

In many respects, the Standardbred resembles the Thoroughbred. However, it is often more muscled and longer in body, and does not stand as tall, averaging between 15 and 16 hands. The head is bigger and may even sport a Roman nose.

Standardbreds weigh between 800 and 1,000 pounds. They are known for their docile personalities and willing temperaments. This breed appears in varying colors, although bay, brown and black are predominant.

Standardbreds have two gaits

There are two types of Standardbreds, pacers and trotters. Pacers and trotters do not race against each other, as the pacing gait is generally faster than the trot. The current world record for a pacing mile is 1:46.4, set by Holborn Hanover at the Meadowlands (East Rutherford, NJ) in 2006 and tied by Somebeachsomewhere in 2008 at the Red Mile in Lexington, KY. The fastest recorded trot mile is 1:49.3 at Colonial Downs. Enough Talk completed the mile in 2008 at the one-turn track.

Trotters have a diagonal gait: the right front and left rear will move forward at the same time with the left front and right rear moving back at the same time.

Pacers move the legs on the same side of the body at the same time: the right front and right rear move forward at the same time with left front and left rear moving back at the same time. This is known as a lateral gait and pacers have also been known to be called “side-wheelers”. Pacers usually wear hobbles to help them maintain their gait.

Even though every horse can trace their lineage back to the trotter Hambletonian 10, today, each gait has their own line of breeding. As a rule of thumb pacing bred stallions sire pacers and likewise with trotters, although there are exceptions to every rule. Today the pacing gait is just as natural as the trot; you may see foals pacing in the field before they are even weaned from their mothers.

Leading sires of two-minute performers for each gait
(more statistics like these can be found in the Trotting & Pacing Guide)
Pacing Sires # of 2:00 foals Fastest Performer (Record)
No Nukes 1,459 Dr No (1:48.2)
Albatross 1,297 Ball and Chain (1:49)
Big Towner 1.166 Tune Town (1:49.1)
Trotting Sires # of 2:00 foals Fastest Performer (Record)
Balanced Image 466 Swan Image (1:51.4)
Speedy Crown 451 Moni Maker (1:52.1)
Super Bowl 423 American Winner & Super Spicy (1:52.3)

Standardbreds off the track

For all their stamina and speed in harness, Standardbreds make willing and intelligent companions off the track. Because of their training on the track, it is usually an easy task to retrain them for pleasure or show. Standardbreds excel in a variety of disciplines, from barrel racing to dressage, saddle seat to combined driving. They have a heart that knows no limits, and versatility to go with it.

Learn more about harness racing>>

Standardbred Horse