Harness racing has seen a number of champions win the sport’s greatest races and here are the top 10 harness racing horses of all time.
There is always plenty of debate when it comes to creating a list of the greatest athletes that a sport has seen. Harness racing is no different with plenty of fans selecting different horses in their top 10, while the order may be even more difficult itself.
I didn’t have the privilege of seeing most of these horses compete on the racetrack so I am relying on old footage, career statistics and news articles when it comes to selecting my top 10 best harness racing horses of all time.
The list comprises of Australian-trained horses only and won’t feature New Zealand champions such as Christian Cullen or Elsu.
It is also for pacers only and won’t feature champion trotter Maori’s Idol for example.
1. Blacks A Fake (foaled 2000)
The Inter Dominion Championship is regarded as harness racing’s most coveted series and Blacks A Fake is the only pacer in history to capture four Inter Dominion Championships. He won the 2006 edition at Hobart, 2007 at Globe Derby Park, 2008 at Moonee Valley and 2010 at Menangle. Mr Feelgood denied Blacks A Fake at the Gold Coast in 2009 and Im Themightyquinn defeated Blacks A Fake at Alexandra Park in 2011.
The Natalie Rasmussen-trained and driven Blacks A Fake would also capture a Victoria Cup, AG Hunter Cup, two Queensland Pacing Championships, a Treuer Memorial and a Winter Cup (now known as the Blacks A Fake). He was runner up in the Miracle Mile on two occasions, falling just short of completing a sweep of harness racing’s four biggest races – Inter Dominion, Miracle Mile, Victoria Cup and Hunter Cup.
Credit: Gary Wild
Blacks A Fake was retired in 2011 with a career record of 105 starts, 72 wins and 24 minor placings. He amassed $4,575,436 in prizemoney which is a Southern Hemisphere record for a standardbred.
2. Popular Alm (1976-2000)
There probably hasn’t ever been a more popular horse than the aptly-named Popular Alm, affectionately known as Poppy, who raced 62 times for 49 wins and 10 minor placings.
He was trained by Bob Knight and driven by Bob’s son, Vin Knight, who still remains an icon of the sport decades after his death.
Photo provided by HRV
Popular Alm captured two Victoria Cups, as well as a Miracle Mile, Hunter Cup and the Queensland Pacing Championship.
One champion that met Popular Alm on many occasions was Gammalite who often chased home Popular Alm in their encounters.
Popular Alm is also famous for pacing a world-record 1:53.2 mile rate at Moonee Valley after rating quarters of 27.1, 27.9, 28.6 and 29.6 in 1983.
3. Village Kid (1980-2012)
Village Kid won 19 consecutive fast-class races between February 20, 1987 and February 13, 1988. His career tally would stand at 160 starts, 93 wins and 36 minor placings, for prizemoney in excess of $2 million.
A remarkable statistic is that between the ages of four and eight, Village Kid won 70 races from 100 attempts and was placed a further 22 times. This outstanding form saw him a dual Grand Circuit champion.
Village Kid won an Inter Dominion, two Miracle Miles, a Hunter Cup, record-equalling four WA Pacing Cups (alongside Pure Steel), two Fremantle Cups and a Treuer Memorial.
Affectionately known as Willie, Village Kid was trained by Bill Horn and driven by Chris Lewis who became the third driver to reach 5,000 career wins in 2016.
4. Westburn Grant (foaled 1985)
An outstanding three-year-old winning the Victoria Derby, NSW Derby and New Zealand Derby, Westburn Grant would go on with it as he was crowned Australian Harness Horse of the Year three years’ running.
Not only did Westburn Grant win three Derbies, but in two of them, he put a massive space on his opposition (21m in NSW Derby and 8.75 lengths in NZ Derby) showcasing he was the best three-year-old in the land.
Photo provided by HRV
Trained and driven by Vic Frost, Westburn Grant raced on 67 occasions for 38 wins and 18 minor placings. He was the first pacer in the Southern Hemisphere to win more than $2 million in prizemoney.
Westburn Grant’s list of victories in big-races is incredible as he won an Inter Dominion, the Miracle Mile twice, two WA Pacing Cups, a Queensland Pacing Championship, Treuer Memorial, two SA Pacing Cups, Australian Pacing Championship and the Golden Nugget Championship.
5. Preux Chevalier (1978-2007)
Barry Perkins trained and drove Western Australia’s Preux Chevalier, an injury-plagued horse that had 56 starts for 41 wins and 10 minor placings; a very similar stat-line to that of Popular Alm.
He is the only horse to win the Inter Dominion, Miracle Mile, Victoria Cup and Hunter Cup during his career which makes him one of the greatest horses of all time. In addition, Preux Chevalier won a Queensland Pacing Championship, WA Pacing Cup and New Zealand Free For All.
Preux Chevalier decimated the 1985 Hunter Cup field by 23m as he led throughout to defeat Wondai’s Mate in arrogant fashion.
One of the remarkable stories surrounding Preux Chevalier relates to his Inter Dominion victory at Moonee Valley in 1985.
Affectionately known as The Frog, Preux Chevalier suffered a slight colic attack prior to the event where he had to be vetted and was passed fit to run. The rest is history as Preux Chevalier proved too strong defeating fellow champions Village Kid (second) and Gammalite (fourth).
6. Gammalite (1976-2006)
Gammalite is truly one of the greats having won two Inter Dominions, a Hunter Cup, WA Pacing Cup, Queensland Pacing Championship, Auckland Cup, Fremantle Cup, Cranbourne Cup and four SA Cups (a feat shared with Smoken Up).
Trained by Terang-based Leo O’Connor and driven by Bruce Clarke, Gammalite was the first Australian horse to win more than $1 million in prizemoney.
He would retire with a career record of 179 starts, 94 wins and 53 minor placings.
Photo provided by HRV
Gammalite was named Grand Circuit Champion on three consecutive occasions and was twice named Australian Harness Horse of the Year.
One horse that Gammalite didn’t enjoy bumping into was the legendary Popular Alm who had the wood on Gammalite in most of their encounters. Although it was often one-sided in favour of Poppy, Gammalite would enjoy the sweetest of victories over his arch-nemesis in the 1983 Inter Dominion Championship held in New Zealand.
7. Im Themightyquinn (foaled 2004)
You’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn. Those song lyrics are the perfect representation of trainer Gary Hall Snr’s champion pacer Im Themightyquinn.
A three-time Inter Dominion champion who was unbeaten in heats and finals of the prestigious series, Im Themightyquinn had a devastating turn of foot that saw him sweep from last-to-first in many races; his wins in the 2012 and 2013 Inter Dominion Finals showcase his paralysing sprint.
Credit: William Crabb
Driven by Hall Snr’s son Gary Hall Jnr, Im Themightyquinn raced 111 times for 58 wins, 34 minor placings and prizemoney of $4,567,456. Quinny as he was known, would fall just $7,980 short of Blacks A Fake’s prizemoney record.
Im Themightyquinn won three Inter Dominions, three WA Pacing Cups, two Auckland Cups, the Blacks A Fake, three Fremantle Cups and a Cranbourne Cup.
The reason I fell in love with harness racing is because of Im Themightyquinn and despite not being number one in this list, he will always remain my number one favourite pacer.
8. Our Sir Vancelot (foaled 1990)
Trained and driven by Brian Hancock, Our Sir Vancelot had 97 starts for 48 wins and 26 minor placings, amassing more than $2 million in prizemoney.
Our Sir Vancelot was the first horse to win the coveted Inter Dominion Championship three times. In addition, he would capture a Miracle Mile, two WA Pacing Cups, two Treuer Memorials, a Ballarat Cup, Australian Pacing Championship and a SA Cup.
A dual Grand Circuit champion, Our Sir Vancelot really hit his straps later in his career as his first 47 starts produced 21 wins for prizemoney of $128,366. His final 50 starts would return 27 wins and more than $2 million in prizemoney.
An example of Our Sir Vancelot’s dominance at the peak of his powers occurred between December 5, 1997 and January 17, 1998 (five starts); he won the Miracle Mile, Treuer Memorial, Bulli Cup, Smoke Free Cup and WA Pacing Cup in that time.
Photo provided by HRV
9. Smoken Up (foaled 2002)
The only champion on this list that I have seen in the flesh, Smoken Up was a marvel on the racetrack and was adorned by many fans as evidenced by his farewell at Melton – I was privileged to witness his final race and have my photo taken with Smoken Up and trainer-driver Lance Justice.
Smoken Up, or Trigger as he was known, boasted a career record of 153 starts for 74 wins, 54 minor placings and $3,607,983 in prizemoney.
Blessed with gate speed and an incredible resiliency to fight back when headed in the straight (see his 2013 SA Cup win), Smoken Up won two Miracle Miles, a Victoria Cup, four Len Smith Miles, four SA Cups, a New Zealand Free For All and a Cordina Chicken Farms Sprint.
He was also first past the post in the 2011 Inter Dominion Final held at Alexandra Park but was later disqualified giving victory to Im Themightyquinn.
Smoken Up is famous for becoming the first Southern Hemisphere pacer to break a 1:50-mile rate as he recorded 1:48.5 in the 2011 Len Smith Mile held at Menangle.
Credit: Stuart McCormick
10. Pure Steel (1971-1996)
Tough as old boots is a perfect description of Western Australia’s iron-horse Pure Steel, who was often referred to as Steelo.
Owned by Russell Roberts and trained by Fred Kersley before transferring to Phil Coulson, Pure Steel competed in 127 races for 68 victories and 37 minor placings.
Pure Steel is the only horse to win the Hunter Cup on three occasions, while he was also victorious in a record-holding four WA Pacing Cups (shared with Village Kid), a Miracle Mile and a Fremantle Cup.
A crowd of around 20,000-25,000 spectators filled Gloucester Park in 1980 to witness a match race between Pure Steel and Satinover. Heading into the event, Satinover had posted a winning streak of 19 but that wouldn’t mean anything in the match race as Pure Steel moved outside of Satinover and raced past him in the home straight to assert his dominance.
Pure Steel’s win in the 1978 Hunter Cup is one of the great staying performances as reinsman Ted Demmler sent Steelo to sit outside Rip Van Winkle before hanging on as a wall of horses gave chase.