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For those of you who were only aware of standard gallop racing, harness racing involves the pulling of a jockey (or driver) on a two-wheeled cart. This is also known as a sulky. The horses must not break into a run and must maintain a strict trotting action.
In Europe, harness racing is mainly based in the colder northern countries and the horses can be traced back to breeding mares in Russia, Finland and Sweden. Sweden is the main hub of the sport, in Scandinavia and events take place throughout the year.
There are well over 20 different race tracks in Sweden. In Finland there are over 40, although the majority are considered to be minor venues.
The most important trotting race is known as the Elitloppet. This is held at Sweden’s Solvalla track and the distance is one mile. Other big races include the Svenskt Travkriterium, the Svenskt Travderby and the Hugo Abergs Memorial. There are various other important events held at Åby, Mantorp, Axevalla, Bergsåker and Boden. Races are also held in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Holland.
The races are as much about strategy, as actual pace. However, the fastest horses will always be the most successful. Track position is vitally important. Overtaking on an oval track is always going to be difficult, as the horses are forced to run wide. But horses can gain advantages from getting into the slipstream of the horse in front. This can enable the horse to accelerate past, as the horse in front begins to tire.
The start of the race is massively important and you are likely to see several of the runners trying to take the lead. Generally, the horses will form two lines. Getting boxed-in on the rail can be hugely disadvantageous, if there is no real pace. When that happens, it can be difficult to get out of the situation and the race can be quickly lost.
While harness racing may lack the full-blooded excitement of gallop racing, they create a fascinating tactical battle. Only with a good strategy and great timing can a driver steer the horse to victory.
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