Last week, a few of us met up for some social photography at Pikehall in Derbyshire – we decided that we would go and watch the Harness Racing, as none of us had ever been before. It’s about 30 miles from where we are based, and so with lunch packed away, we intrepid explorers set off on a gloriously sunshiny Sunday….
Racing started at 2pm, and there were 9 races in total. But, we thought, what is harness racing exactly.. the answer came from the Harness Racing Association
There are various opinions as to how Harness Racing began – folk racing their horses and traps home from church, trotting horses under saddle carrying the post all over the country and being raced by their owners etc.
Racing is thought to have begun in the mid 1700′s, the earliest recorded race being on Newmarket Heath on 29th August 1750. The Earl of March and the Earl of Eglintowne bet 1,000 guineas that four horses could pull a four wheeled chaise carrying one person 19 miles in an under an hour. A century and a half later, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales drove a trotter on the old Lanark racecourse in Scotland.
Many ‘match’ races used to take place between two horses, and also betting on horses trotting a set distance inside a certain time, some of the more notable recorded ones being:- In 1800 Phenomena, a brown mare 14.3hh, trotted 17 miles on the road in 56 minutes, when she was 12 years old. Some questioned the accuracy of the timing so she repeated the feat in three minutes less! She also trotted 19 miles in an hour, and at the age of 23, she still trotted 9 miles in 28.5 minutes. Creeping Sally was only 14 hands and blind, but she was backed to cover 50 miles of public road within 5 hours, trotting in harness. Her blindness probably proved an advantage that day, as there was a thick fog at Shoreditch and for all of the 25 miles out on the Harlow road. She turned round and headed back to London in 16 minutes under the stipulated time, with no signs of distress.
In 1839, two horses which were driven in tandem trotting 45 miles of road in 2 hours 55.5 minutes, were Tommy and Gustavus, a 24 year old. Both horses had won individual match races. By driving this pair backwards and forwards over a measured five mile stretch of road between Hampton and Sunbury, Mr Burke of Hereford won £100 for completing inside 3 hours. Lady was a trotting mare from Birmingham born in 1828 by Mr Richard Taylor from the noted horse Matchless out of Cheshire Cheese Lass. She was less than 15 hands but her first match was won against a 16hh horse, between Litchfield and Burton on 23/11/1832. She won easily passing him at the distance of 5 miles after giving him a mile start. On 13/5/1834 she trotted 17 miles in 55 minutes, carrying 12 stone.
The main foundation sire of American Harness Racing stock was a grey English thoroughbred called Messenger, and he was exported to America in 1788. His career as a stallion lasted 20 years, and today nearly all of America’s Standardbreds can be traced directly back to one of Messenger’s great grandsons, Hambletonian. The name Standardbred derives from the early American trotters who were required to reach a set standard of 2 minutes 30 seconds for a mile, in order to gain breed recognition. As far back as 1800, many top class American Standardbreds have stopped in Britain on their way to Australia, and British breeders have benefited from them resting here.
(info taken from the BHRA Website) – All images by Diane Seddon LRPS CPAGB
See the full set of images here http://www.oaktreephotography.co.uk/pikehall