In Sweden, trotting racing makes up around 90% of the competition, with the other 10% being thoroughbred racing that you will be used to seeing in the UK.
There are two different breeds of horse that take part in trotting racing in our country; warm-bloods and cold-bloods. The vast majority of horses competing are warm-bloods, but it is the cold-bloods who were the original harness racers in Sweden.
Cold-blooded horses have been present in Scandinavia for centuries and were generally used in the agricultural industry and forestry during the week. But on the weekends, the farmers began to race against one another to see who had the fastest horse.
The first organised competitive races were held outside Stockholm on the ice in Brunnsviken in the winters around 1900. However, it was in Malmö that the first trotting track opened in 1907.
As the years passed, the faster warmbloods became the more popular breed to compete with and eventually became the more common competitor in Sweden.
Today, the cold-blooded horses compete mostly in the northern part of Sweden, at tracks such as Östersund, the venue for the Swedish Trotting Derby, and Dannero which hosts the Grand Criterium.
Long careers and family rivalries
Like thoroughbred races, warmblood horses start competing in trotting races as two-year-olds, although they may not race as frequently as juveniles as their galloping cousins.
On the other hand, trotters compete longer into their life. Until last year warm blood horses could compete until the age of 12 in their harness racing career.
But like the increasing retirement age for humans in both Sweden and the UK, those trotters have recently been asked to work for longer. Last year a new mandatory retirement age of 15 was introduced.
One notable difference between harness racing and the thoroughbred industry is that while thoroughbreds will only go to stud once they have retired, trotters will often do both jobs simultaneously.
It is not unusual for a horse to be taking part in some of the biggest harness races in the country, while also forging a career as a stallion at the same time.
The much talked about Propulsion is just one example of a horse continuing to race whilst also an active stallion.
Another former champion, William, who won some of Sweden’s biggest races as a three-year-old headed straight for stallion duties as a four-year-old.
It takes a special horse to perform at stud at the same time as racing in the leading contests in the country. As good as William was as a three-year-old, he couldn’t repeat his triumphs to the same level once he also became a stallion.
Because horses can compete at the same time as producing offspring, it’s not rare to see a horse competing on the track against their sons or daughters.
More common in the cold-bloods as they generally race for longer, one of the best examples of this was Järvsöfaks who raced against a number of his progeny.
This was of course helped because Järvsöfaks was one of the best cold-bloods of all time. He competed 234 times, winning 201 races and earning over 21 million Swedish Krona - still a record today.
Other horses that don’t make it to stud in Sweden are generally retired as riding horses, though there are new organisations created that are focused on the care of, and rehoming of ex-racers.
The world’s best is on show on Tuesday
Looking to the more immediate future, the weekend lacked a stand-out race, Tuesday night hosts Hugo Åberg's Memorial - one of the leading sprint races in the country.
It looks set to be a fantastic race with some of the fastest horses in Sweden lining up.
The hottest of them all is the so-far undefeated four-year-old, Ecurie D, who now takes on the very best from the older guard. I proclaimed in this blog that I think he could be the best trotting horse the world has seen.
He has a tough task, with the number 10 meaning he must start in the second wave of runners over this sprint distance, however, I think he is up to the task in any case, and look forward to seeing an exciting race on Tuesday.
If you have the chance to catch the contest, you should not miss your opportunity to the world’s best at Jagersro.