Have you ever wondered where the term ‘sulky’ comes from? Supposedly it comes from the fact that the sulky cart only has one seat so the driver prefers to sit on his own!

Sulky racing is a popular sport in many countries around the world, in Norway and Finland it is as popular as greyhound racing is in Ireland. It originally took place on the frozen lakes of Norway but nowadays there are purpose built tracks where racers battle it out. There are three different types of carts that are used, the most common of which is the jog cart which is heavier and used for training. These have heavy frames and some suspension for a smoother ride. The next stage between a jog cart and a full on race cart is the race bike. The construction of this cart is similar to a racing bike and these are used for the qualifying heats in races. Speed carts are a bit heavier but feature mud flaps for use on the track and provide a bit more stability for racing.

Painted by Jim McKee http://www.jimmckeeart.com/

Painted by Jim McKee
http://www.jimmckeeart.com/

In Norway, harness racing is absolutely huge and it could point the way to providing a safer legal alternative to the racing which sometimes takes place on Irish roads. In some years there have been over 500 race days around Norway and in 2009 the industry was reported to be worth over €451 million. Far from being a boys’ club Norway is home to several top female harness racers and for most it is a full-time professional career with lucrative sponsorship deals and horses being traded and at stud for massive fees.

On of the biggest and most prestigious harness races in the world takes place in the huge Vincennes Hippodrome in eastern Paris each January. This race has taken place each year since 1920 (with the exception of the war years) but a look through the list of winners doesn’t seem to mention any Irish names yet there are plenty of Italian and non-French names in there. Harness racing is also very popular in Italy where it is called ‘trotto, or galoppo’. The stakes are huge in the Parisian race as the winning purse is a cool €1million shared between the rider and horse owner. That would keep you in oats for a very long time!

If you’re ever visiting New York and would like to find out more about the history and culture of sulky racing around the world you could pay a visit to the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in the suburb of Goshen. This museum has a collection of over 1,700 paintings and works of art depicting horses, as well as 75 sulkies, 7 carts, 1,000 trophies and a research library. You can do a virtual visit here www.harnessmuseum.com.

Harness racing is growing in popularity throughout Ireland with the racetrack in Dundalk hosting races, and, since 2014, each June, there is a race in Portmarnock on the coast of Dublin. Crossmaglen also hosts a very popular race day with crowds of up to 5,000 people turning up to last year’s event. If you are involved in the sport and wish to promote it as well as the safe treatment of the horses; please get in touch with us as we would be keen to hear from an expert who could provide our readers with further insights.

By David Jo Murphy