It wasn't called "harness" racing, or even a sport, until the turn of the 19th Century. Pitting horses against one another along country roads, or on city streets was simply called "trotting". Pacers and trotters alike were participants in "trotting".New York Governor First Promotes Racing
In 1965, at Hempstead, Long Island a birthday party was thrown, commemorating the 300th anniversary of horse racing. The competitions among the steeds of private owners was a gala event in New York City, promoted by the governor in 1665, Richard Nicolls.
New York officials and the governor gathered with particular people every May to witness races sponsored for the "improvement and encouragement of a good brand of horses". Equine winners were rewarded with silver trophies, while next bests were given an equal share of wheat.
Naysayers reared their heads by 1802 to force passage of a law banning horse racing. But by 1819, desginated riders, called jockeys, could handle horses in specified races for trotters and pacers as races became official on regulated courses. Races were allowed only in May and in October and required the presence of the local sheriff to keep tabs on the legalities.
Early Race Courses Were Paths
Early courses were established as paths in what is now Brooklyn. Bath, Long Island got the first race course, and Union Course was set in 1821 three miles west of Jamaica. It was nearly oval and covered one mile, the excepted standard for trotting races which remains today. In the southwest corner of North Hempstead, a straight track was named Newmarket Course by Governor Nicolls. Pre-revoluntionary Brits favored it for the racing of their blooded horses. In 1843, the name Newmarket was replaced by the tag Washington Race Course.
Harness racing's foundation sire, the father of the sport, Messenger, is buried on Long Island. He died in 1808 at the age of 28.
Evolution Takes Its Course
It wasn't until May 3, 1845 that race results from Union Course were reported in a newspaper for the first time. The New York Herald printed an extra edition to catch the day's racing news.
In the same year, trotters were bowing to the unbeatable Lady Suffolk. She recorded the first under 2:30 mile, an incredible feat at the time.
The trotting sport entered a new era of visibility. Such equine greats as John R. Gentry, Star Pointer, and Joe Patchen and Maud S. thrilled the crowds. Joe Patchen later sired the undefeated pacer, Dan Patch.
As the years passed, more intense competitions were sponsored. Still in place today are the Hambletonian and the Messenger, and the Little Brown Jug, all named after harness champions.