I don’t follow harness racing, but even I have heard of Bulldog Hanover, considered to be the fastest harness horse in history. He recently topped off his career with another record-breaking win in the $345,000 TVG Series Open Pace championship on November 26th, improving on the previous track record by two-fifths of a second.
The four-year old Canadian-bred Standardbred has won 28 of 37 starts and earned $2.41 million. Unlike Thoroughbred stallions, who aren’t bred until they retire, Bulldog Hanover has already hit the breeding shed; he covered 80 mares last year.
In July, also at the Meadowlands, Bulldog Hanover became the fastest horse in harness racing history when he won the William R. Haughton Memorial in 1:45.4.
He retires with four of the nine fastest race miles in history and a record total of six wins in under 1:47. Among those were two Canadian record-equaling 1:46.4 victories at Woodbine Mohawk Park, most recently in the Breeders Crown last month.
Pacers vs Trotters
Like most of the fastest Standardbreds, Bulldog Hanover is a pacer. Standardbreds come in two flavors: Trotters, where their legs in diagonal pairs, and pacers, where the legs on the same side of the horse moves their legs laterally. Pacers are faster, accelerate quicker, and are less likely than trotters to break stride mostly because they wear hobbles (sometimes called hopples), which connect the front and rear legs on the same side of a horse to help balance and stabilize the horse on turns and maintain their gait. Horses are disqualified if they break gate during a race and hobbles prevent this from occurring.
The ability to pace has a genetic basis determined by a mutation in gene DMRT3 which controls movement. The discovery of the gene has the potential to greatly impact harness racing by allowing the selective breeding of faster horses.
The Foundation Sire
The Standardbred horse started with a single stallion, Messenger, an English Thoroughbred imported to Philadelphia in 1788. During his lifetime he sired more than a thousand offspring influencing both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds alike. Through his through his great grandson, Hambletonian 10, who was bred by Jonas Seely Jr. in 1849. Hambleltonian started his racing career at 6 months and his stud career at two. He quickly gained a reputation as a speed sire. In 24 seasons at stud, Hambletonian produced about 1,335 foals.
Standardbreds are so named because they were capable of trotting or pacing a mile within the prescribed limits of a certain standard of time. This was known as The Standard of Admission to Registration. In 1897 that was 2:30 or faster. By 1944 that time had been lowered to 2:20 or faster for two-year-olds and 2:15 or better for all other ages. Today, Standardbreds regularly trot and pace miles under two minutes. Bull Hanover’s 1:45.4 time makes him the faster Standardbred yet.