Fan Guide

Harness racing in the United States has a rich and colorful history. From its humble back-roads beginnings to the systemized, standardized, multimillion-dollar business we know today, Standardbred racing has been an integral part of the American story.

Harness racing first emerged on the scene as a fun, recreational activity for neighbors who owned horses (which was nearly everyone) to earn bragging rights and compete against one another. These early races initially took place on country roads and village streets, but as the informal events grew more popular, racetracks were built to accommodate the horsemen and fans.

The first harness racing tracks were opened in the mid-1800s, but harness racing events could be found as early as 1825 at county fairs all around the country. And by the mid-20th century, harness racing was the fastest-growing sport in America.

Today, harness racing can still be found at county fairs and numerous racetracks across the U.S. The sport is also popular in other countries including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France and Sweden.

Here are some of history's finest Standardbred racehorses:


As a 3-year-old, Niatross was the first Standardbred to top $2 million in earnings in a career. He also was the first Standardbred ever to break the 1:50 barrier when he was timed in 1:49.1 in Lexington, Ky., in 1980.


From 1964-1966, Bret Hanover was the best horse in harness racing, as evidenced by his three Horse of the Year awards, and he was also one of the greatest pacers ever to look through a bridle. Bret Hanover won 62 of 68 races in his career, including many premier events such as the Little Brown Jug, Messenger Stakes and Cane Pace. He retired as the fastest and richest Standardbred of all time.


An unmatched celebrity in his time, Dan Patch set many records and never lost a race. He was celebrated with memorabilia and merchandise and was America's most famous athlete, human or equine, at the turn of the 20th century.