New to Racing >> History of the Standardbred

In 1879, the National Association of Trotting Horse Breeders agreed upon standards to define horses eligible to the Trotting Register, started in 1867 by John H. Wallace, to record pedigrees of trotting horses.

One of the rules stated that a stallion was required to trot a mile in two minutes and thirty seconds or better, or 2:35 if hitched to a wagon. After years of debate over what to name the new breed of trotting horse, the high standards required for registry led to the name we know today: Standardbred.

All Standardbreds trace their ancestry through direct male line to the imported stallion Messenger, an English Thoroughbred who was brought to America in 1788. The modern Standardbred owes its existence to a rather homely grandson of Messenger named Hambletonian.

The story of Hambletonian is a fascinating and well-documented one, and set the precedent for this breed being one for "every man" and not just a wealthy person's sport. Hambletonian was bought as a foal by his caretaker, an illiterate hired hand named Rysdyk, and eventually made his owner a fortune. Hambletonian's sons and daughters were the first to meet the standards of the new trotting breed, including Dexter, the horse you see on every antique weathervane, and Lady Suffolk, the "old gray mare who ain't what she used to be".

Canadian influence was strong in the new Standard breed, with the emergence of sires like Pilot, Pilot Jr., and the early pacers which were brought out of Canada like Copperbottom, founder of the Hal family.

In 1881, the first World Champion was a pacer of the Hal family, and the most prestigious pacing race in the United States, the Little Brown Jug, bears his name. Originally denigrated as "bush-bred" and considered a poor man's horse, today's pacer is making many people rich.

In 1909, the Canadian Standardbred Horse Society was incorporated for the primary purpose of maintaining the official registry of Standardbred horses in Canada. In 1939, the Canadian Trotting Association was formed to become the record-keeping and licensing body. In 1998 the two organizations were amalgamated to form Standardbred Canada. Computer terminals connect racetracks across the country to Standardbred Canada's central data bank in Mississauga, Ontario.

Canadians have gained international recognition in the sport at all levels. John Campbell, Ron and Keith Waples, Michel Lachance and Bill O'Donnell are legends in the sport and are all Canadians. The award of excellence in Canadian racing today is the O'Brien Award, named after the late, great Maritime-born horseman, Joe O'Brien. At the conclusion of each racing year, voters from across the country make their selections of the horses and people they feel are deserving of this honour. The winners are announced each year at the O'Brien Awards, hosted by Standardbred Canada.

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