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Harness Racing

Horseracing is one of the few competitive sports many characterize as being genuinely artistic. Major cities typically have a spot set aside for these events, but Edmonton beat most when Northlands’ predecessors opened a track in the 1880s.

By 1909, the Northlands track had played host to champion thoroughbred racing in both gaits. A few years later, parimutuel betting was introduced and, while interest in the sport began to wane across the United States for the lack of legal wagering options, it continued strong at the Edmonton Exhibition betting wickets.

When people think of horseracing, they often picture a swift animal with a rider on its back, and that is just what Northlands racing was in its infancy. In 1952, however, the Exhibition Association dedicated the first days specifically to harness racing. The sport was an immediate hit, drawing large crowds right from the beginning.

Competitors in harness races are exposed to different rigours than those in saddle racing; each horse tows a rider behind it in a two-wheeled carriage called a sulky. The test of this competition is not only to be the fastest, but also to maintain a characteristic gait through the duration of the race.

Harness racers are typically standardbred horses—members of a 200-year-old breed descended from a single thoroughbred of the type that runs in the saddle races today. The first standardbreds were trotters admitted to the new breed by virtue of their ability to race a mile in under 2 minutes and 30 seconds while maintaining a perfect "diagonal" gait. The proper form for this gait has horses moving one front leg in unison with a back leg on the opposite side of its body.

Featured Video: Harness racing and related activities Promotional video for Northlands Park harness racing and related activities. Watch Now

The participation of pacers, trained to perfect a "sidewheeling" gait wherein they move both legs on one side in tandem, only came into favour years later.

Now, in a reversal of the historical precedent, pacing horses significantly outnumber trotters at the tracks.

Visitors to Northlands can still place a variety of wagers concerning which horses win, place, or show. Once a new enthusiast learns how to read a program, and how to handicap—that is, to place a well-informed wager—he can make a reasonable guess as to a competitor’s likelihood of winning.

Racing programs include information such as the horse’s name, colour, record, and previous positions. Spectators armed with these programs, perhaps watching from the grandstand, can thus enjoy the show on more than one level.

Harness racing is also simulcast at the Northlands Spectrum, so that spectators can watch both the on-site races and others from around the world at the same time.

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Quicklinks

Thoroughbred

Harness

Northlands Race Regulation Bodies

Canadian Derby Sweepstake

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