Most people who own Thoroughbred racehorses are not motivated primarily by monetary gains, as there are far more dependable and profitable investments.  The sporting aspect of horse racing mainly attracts owners, the pursuit of having the fastest horse and the satisfaction that goes with winning.

These outcomes are infrequent if an owner’s horse races only occasionally.  And annual number-of-starts per horse in North America has been declining over the years, as demonstrated by The Jockey Club’s statistics:

1950  10.91
1960  11.31
1970  10.22
1980  9.21
1990  7.94
2000  7.10
2010  6.11
2016  6.20

If the criterion for ownership is on-track action, the advantage of owning Standardbred racehorses, trotters and pacers, over owning Thoroughbred racehorses is striking.  The average number of starts per year for a North American Standardbred is about 17 times, or every 21.5 days, compared to 6.2 starts and 58.9 days for Thoroughbreds.  Approximately three weeks vs. two months between races.

I went to a local harness racetrack recently and perused the program for number of starts.  As of early October 2017, entrants had routinely started in anywhere from 20 to 30 races in 2017.  In races for 2-year-olds, the number of starts was in the range of 12 to 20.

Why Standardbreds race so much more often than Thoroughbreds has several plausible explanations.  Trotters and pacers may genetically be a more durable breed; harness racing takes less out of a horse than flat racing; and injuries are less likely to occur in harness racing owing to synthetic track surfaces, the comparatively slower speeds in Standardbred races, and lack of weight on a horse’s back.

Racehorse owners gravitate to a breed—Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, or Quarter Horses—out of a personal preference for a certain type of racing.  In Sweden, the distinction is even finer, with all trotters and no pacers.  If a prospective owner wants to see his or her horse run on a consistent basis with relatively short intervals between starts, Standardbreds are the hands-down choice.

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