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Those trying times
Friday, April 18, 2014 - by Tim Bojarski

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Last week I wrote about the excessive speeds that Standardbreds are going these days and how hard it has become to separate classes. After having some time to further ponder that situation, I suddenly realized that a tool many trainers in years gone by used to enhance the value of their horses based on speed has become non-existent in today’s racing scene. 

I am speaking about the time-trial.

Normally to enhance their value for breeding when their racing career was over, time-trialing a horse was a fairly common practice in the old days and they were held at many meets, usually before the races began. Obviously the mile tracks were the ones who hosted most of them and I can recall watching as my friend put his trotting mare against the clock at Syracuse back in 1982 in advance of him selling her to Italian interests for breeding in Europe.

Dan Patch spent most of his career racing against himself and time-trialed many times. Sometimes with a prompter (a Thoroughbred hooked to a jog cart galloping alongside to urge him along) and sometimes with a windshield (as aforementioned only with a screen attached to the back of the jog cart to break the wind). And many times he would just circle the track by himself to beat a predetermined time.

If you look in older programs, it’s not uncommon to see the lifetime mark of a lot of horses listed as a time-trial, even though it wasn’t a race mark. But as the sport has changed, this once common practice has, for the most part, gone by the wayside.

So in order to not forget what a cool event this used to be, I put together a short list of three, more recent time trials that made the harness racing world take notice at the time they occurred. In chronological order, they are:

October 1, 1980 – Niatross sets the pacing world record of 1:49.1 in a time trial at the Red Mile in Lexington, Kentucky.

 August 16, 1993 – Cambes.t paces in 1:46.1, the fastest mile ever by a standardbred, at Springfield, Illinois.

September 21, 2006  - Cash  Hall shattered the all-age world record for trotters on a half-mile track when he timed in 1:51.1 at Delaware, Ohio. 

If you watch these videos it’s interesting to note that the prompters in Niatross’s trial were literally right next to him as they hit the wire, but Cambest left his in his dust very early in the mile. And where it was odd to see a trotting time trial on a half-mile track, Cash Hall went so fast, the pacing prompter he was given couldn’t even keep up.

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