There is nothing to compare with the thrills and excitement of harness racing. Imagine, though, for a moment what this great sport would be like if there were no rules for the horsemen, the officials, and the tracks to follow. The resulting chaos would ruin harness racing.
The United States Trotting Association was created in 1939 for the very purpose of preventing such a disaster. The USTA has established a solid foundation of rules. It also licenses officials and participants, and registers horses for racing and breeding purposes. All of these actions have fostered the growth of harness racing into a safe, modern, and exciting sport.
Harness racing has a grand tradition in the United States, but the old days were not always good. During the Depression years of the 1930s, the sport was at its lowest ebb. There was little public confidence in the trotting sport. Attendance was sparse, purses were meager, and, even worse, the rules of racing were in a shambles.
Part of the problem was that three separate governing bodies controlled the conduct of racing, and the conflicting rules and regulations caused confusion. Each of these organizations established its own territorial domain. The American Trotting Association ruled the Midwest; the National Trotting Association governed racing in the East, south, and California; and the United Trotting Association controlled the sport in Ohio.
A fourth organization, the American Registry Association, had the responsibility of registering Standardbreds and maintaining breeding records. Yet another group, the Trotting Horse Club of America, promoted stakes and futurities, and published racing dates.
At the urging of the late E. Roland Harriman, a group of industry leaders met in 1938 to try to bring some calm to this turbulent climate. The organizations agreed to put aside their differences and created the United States Trotting Association to serve the entire harness racing industry.
With harness racing’s internal discord ended and a stable new organization in the United States Trotting Association, harness racing got a much-needed impetus for growth. With the introduction of the mobile starting gate and nighttime pari-mutuel racing, the sport enjoyed steady increases in attendance and handle after World War II.
From its humble beginnings in a small office under the grandstand at Historic Track in Goshen, New York, the United States Trotting Association has emerged as a major national trade association. Based in Columbus, Ohio, since 1948, the USTA has about 80 employees to carry out its functions.
The U.S. Trotting Association governs the sport of harness racing for the entire United States. For administrative purposes, the membership is divided into 11 districts covering the United States.
District meetings are conducted each year for the members to discuss industry issues, consider rule changes, and elect new representatives to the USTA Board of Directors. The USTA Board consists of 60 members representing all aspects of harness racing.
The USTA administration is headed by the president and executive vice-president. The latter is the chief executive officer and he directs the daily operation of the Association from its Columbus headquarters.
In spite of the many significant changes which have occurred in harness racing and the Standardbred industry, the basic mission of the U.S. Trotting Association has not been altered.
This mission is:
- License owners, trainers, drivers, and officials.
- Formulates the rules of racing.
- Maintain and disseminates racing information and records.
- Serve as the registry for the Standardbred breed.
- Endeavors to ensure the integrity of harness racing.
- Insists on the humane treatment of Standardbreds.
- Promote the sport of harness racing and the Standardbred breed.
In addition to these objectives, the USTA makes a substantial contribution to other segments of the Standardbred industry. For example, the USTA donates funds for research on a variety of health and safety issues.
The U.S. Trotting Association has established a set of rules which govern the conduct of harness racing in the United States. The various state and provincial racing commissions use these rules as a guide in administering the sport in their jurisdictions. The racing commissions have the ultimate authority; when the USTA and racing commission rules conflict, the state rules take precedence. The USTA works closely with each of the racing commissions, exchanging information to ensure that conflicts are kept to a minimum.
The U.S. Trotting Association continually updates its rules, to meet new situations and challenges as the arise. The initial step in the rules revision process is the publishing of all rules change proposals in Hoof Beats, the USTA’s official monthly magazine. The rule changes are discussed at the district meetings and voted upon by the full Board of Directors at the annual meeting.
All tracks conducting harness racing are required to join the United States Trotting Association and follow its rules. In addition, virtually all breeders, racehorse owners, trainers, drivers, and track officials become members of the USTA and abide by its rules.
Utilizing these membership requirements, the USTA can impose penalties against those who violate the rules of racing or are believed to be detrimental to the sport.
An important facet of our mission is that which ensures the integrity of racing.
Both the wagering public and the sport’s participants are protected by a vigilant attitude towards rule violations.
The USTA and its member tracks cooperate to fund Standardbred Investigative Services, which conduct investigations, some covert, into alleged wrongdoing.
The USTA’s Integrity Hotline (800) 887-8782 is also a source of intelligence used in the fight to maintain integrity, as is the cooperation between this association and the many state and provincial regulatory commissions expressed through the sharing of intelligence.
The USTA also makes available such items as pre-race testing equipment for use by its member tracks, ensuring the latest technology is available for use at even the smallest race meet.
In its continuing effort to maintain the integrity of harness racing, the USTA has set stringent requirements which must be met before an individual is granted membership.
Applicants for driver or trainer licenses must submit several references and cite at least one year of experience to qualify for a license. An individual must be at least 12 years old to apply for a matinee license; 18 years old for a fair, qualifying, or provisional license; and 18 years old for a trainer’s license. Anyone applying for a fair license, or higher, must successfully complete a written examination.
The USTA also licenses the majority of officials at tracks who enforce the rules of harness racing. These officials, who serve in critical positions such as judges, clerks of course, starters, and racing secretaries, often attend USTA schools and seminars prior to obtaining a license. They are also carefully screened to ensure that they possess the character, experience, and knowledge
A modern sport needs modern record-keeping. The USTA has made a tremendous leap in recent years in its efforts to keep up-to-date in recording racing information. The highly-advanced computer system stores an enormous amount of racing data, from horse racelines to driver records. Not only does this allow the immediate retrieval of statistics, but also permits quicker and more accurate productions of USTA publications, such as the Year Book and Driver Roster.
The collection and maintenance of racing information is not the only function of the USTA computer. Gathering such data has greatly facilitated the task of registering horses quickly, establishing a unique identity for every registered Standardbred.
A Standardbred must be registered with the U.S. Trotting Association before it is permitted to race or be bred. Registration needs to be completed before the horse becomes two years old on the universal birthday of January 1.
The owner of the horse being registered provides information such as sire and dam of the foal, its markings, and its breeder. The USTA will then assign a number unique to each horse, for quick and sure identification throughout its life.
With both racing and registration information on its computer system, the USTA is able to produce the venerable Sires and Dams early each year. This annual reference work gives complete listings of all sires and dams that had new or reduced record performers or foals that were registered in the last two years.
Promoting Harness Racing
The USTA provides a wide variety of services and publications to promote the sport of harness racing and spread information about the Standardbred industry via the latest electronic means.
Hoof Beats reaches the widest audience of any Standardbred publication in the world. Other publicity tools, such as the Trotting and Pacing Guide and the Harness Handbook are also invaluable to the media.
The media is also served by Harness Racing Communications, the USTA publicity office in the Colts Neck, New Jersey area which works with the media to place stories and features about the sport in the print and broadcast media, as well as undertaking many kinds of public relations efforts.
Not all of the promotional efforts are restricted to print. The USTA has produced historical and instructional videos, as well as "stock" radio and television commercials. In addition, the USTA maintains and extensive still photo collection of horses and drivers, both past and present.
Although many publicity materials are prepared for a general audience, several are targeted for a specific group or segment within the industry. Coloring books for youngsters, a brochure on job opportunities for teenagers, and handicapping guides are examples of publications for particular groups.
A significant, ongoing publicity effort is geared to the racetracks. The USTA supplies racing information, photos, and publicity materials to the raceways. USTA staff members visit tracks to assist with the preparations for major races and promotions.
Even though the pari-mutuel racetracks command the lion’s share of attendance and attention, racing at the country fair level continues to play and important role. In addition to supplying the fairs with promotional and record-keeping materials, the USTA promotes excellence in fair racing through its Blue Ribbon Fairs program, recognizing the top fairs in North America each year.
The USTA has also taken harness racing to a world-wide audience through its presence on the Internet.
Tens of thousands of individuals visit the USTA’s web site each month, checking such things as race entries and results, the latest news from the sport, and ordering the USTA’s publications.
The USTA also funds racing programs on national television, bringing the excitement of racing to untold millions of households on a regular basis.
Standardbreds and Youth
The USTA has also expanded its reach through the development of programs designed to introduce the breed to people not active in the harness racing industry.
Youngsters wishing to work with Standardbreds as riding or show horses can enter our CHAMP or Medallion programs, through which they learn about Standardbreds, known as one of the most versatile horse breeds.
The USTA also actively supports Standardbred adoption programs, designed to match horse lovers with retired racehorses.
Harness racing and the Standardbred industry have a grand tradition. Racing and breeding at the grassroots level continues to play a very significant role.
In the same way, the U.S. Trotting Association values tradition. It has created a set of rules and practices that bring stability to the industry.
Harness racing has also witnessed enormous change. Tracks, the racing season, equipment, and the times recorded by racehorses have all undergone change.
So, too, has the USTA. Constantly striving to keep abreast of changes in other segments of the industry, the United States Trotting Association uses modern management practices and employs state-of-the-art technology.
The USTA is at work, coordinating the activities of the enormous Standardbred industry, prepared to lead it into the 21st Century. The U.S. Trotting Association is building on the solid foundation of the past to meet the needs of the industry for the future.
Contributed By: The United States Trotting Association