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Originating in America over 200 years ago this horse is one of the finest
harness racehorses in the world. The ancestry of the Standardbred traces
back to the English Thoroughbred, Messenger, a grey, foaled in 1780. He
raced three seasons on the flat winning eight of his fourteen starts before
being exported into Philadelphia in May 1788. He stood at stud in America
for twenty years, at first being crossed with mainly thoroughbreds until
racing was suppressed in New York when he went on to cover all types of
non-thoroughbred mares. Messenger was a descendant of the Darley Arabian and
his descendents were markedly good trotters. One in particular was
Hambletonian his great grandson, a prepotent stallion who was responsible
for Messenger being designated as the breed's foundation sire. Hambletonian
was by Abdullah and out of the Charles Kent Mare a descendent of 'Old
Shales' a famous Norfolk Trotter.
99% of Standardbreds trace back to four of Hambletonians sons - George
Wilkes, Dictator, Happy Medium and Electioneer.
In the early days there were two other breeds that played an important part
in the development of the Standardbred, they were the Clays, descendants of
an imported Barb stallion from Tripoli in 1820 and the Morgan horse.
In 1871 the first register of trotters was published. The term Standardbred
comes from the time standard that was set in 1879 to test the ability of
harness racers in order for them to be admitted to the American Trotting
Register. The original standard was a mile in 2minutes 30seconds, as the
trotters and pacers improved this standard time has been reduced. Modern
Standardbreds travel considerably faster, in the region of 1min 52 seconds
over a mile, not only because of improved horses but also due to the
improvement in racing tracks and modern technology. In 1946 the mobile
starting gate was introduced which helped to eradicate time wasting starts.
Standardbreds race at either the pace, a lateral gait or at the trot, a
diagonal pace. They usually wear hobbles to encourage the lateral movement
and their tack is specifically designed for harness racing.
One of the most famous trotters was a Standardbred called Greyhound. In 1938
he trotted the mile in 1minute 55.25 seconds a record that stood for 31
The Standardbred is more robust and heavier limbed than the thoroughbred.
The pace is so natural that it often prefers to trot rather than gallop even
when roaming free. It stands between 14 and 16h.h. and any solid colour is
permissible. The head is fairly plain though well-set; the neck is average
length; the shoulder is long and well-sloped; the withers defined; the body
is long and strong; the quarters are strong with a high croup; the limbs are
shorter than the thoroughbred and thicker set. It has great powers of
endurance and courage plus exceptional free forward movement.