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Harness racing in Finland is big business and the horses are either a coldblood breed, which is known as the Finnhorse, or typical standardbreds. There is little interest in gallop racing in Finland and harness racing is the nation’s passion. This type of racing continues to dominate, across Scandinavia. Only trotting horses are used by the Finns.
Hundreds of years ago, Finns would traditionally make their way home from church being pulled by a horse. This led to races becoming commonplace, as the level of horse-ownership was high in the country.
Organised races were taking place as far back as 1817, although it wasn’t until the 1960s that a properly-structured horse racing industry began to take shape. Many feared that harness racing would become less popular, as modern farming techniques meant that working horses became less commonplace as the twentieth-century progressed.
Around fifty years ago, parimutuel betting began to rise in popularity and light breeds were permitted to enter races. This gave racing a real boost and new racecourses began to spring up. Finnish Parimutuel betting regulations were altered, giving punters a much bigger share of the betting-pool.
This proved to be an inspired move, as it led to an increase in betting activity and larger purses being awarded. The number of races taking place also steadily increased. The 1960s and 1970s were a golden age for harness racing in Finland, in terms of growth. In that period, the number of spectators increased by 500%. Finnhorses were becoming much less commonplace (reflecting their lack of use in agriculture). However, some were still being bred for racing.
Finland’s Racing Calendar
Racing takes place in Finland on almost every day of the calendar year. Around eight thousand horses will be raced in a single season and only ice hockey is a more popular spectator sport.
The breeding of trotting horses in the 1960s had been badly managed, however. Poor quality horses were allowed to be brought into the country and this lack of quality control led to weak breeding lines and horses that were not ideally suited to racing at the highest level. Eventually, this situation was resolved – in part because of successful breeding with French horses.
Nowadays, the horse-racing industry in Finland is regarded as being well-run and the future looks very bright for the sport.
There are a number of racetracks that Finns regularly attend to watch the action. These include Keskinen, Vaasa, Metsamaki, Laivakangas, Teivo, Seinajoki, Mantyvaara, Pori, Aimarautio, Mikkeli, Lappee, Sorsasalo, Kouvola, Nikula, Kajaani, Killeri, Linnunlahti, Vermo and Pilvenmaki.
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