Trotting races were popular from the 1820s, first on public roads: in 1825 a trotting match was held at Hobart on the Port Dalrymple Road for a wager of a hundred ewes. The first meeting was held in 1884 in Moonah, and these meetings became popular. Clubs round the state conducted races on private tracks for profit through gambling, and 'the trots' attracted large crowds. Trotting became even more popular in the 1920s, with large fields and high stakes, often involving illegal bookmakers. Over a 49-year career, Webb Jones won 565 races, including in 1922 the Richmond Thousand (in New South Wales), Australia's richest saddle-trotting race. The Depression hit racing hard, and it was only saved when the government legalised bookmakers in 1932. Trotting and harness racing flourished once more, with new clubs formed. In 1964 there were 125, with noted meetings at the Carrick, Elphin (Launceston) and Burnie racecourses. Arguably Tasmania's greatest horse, Halwes, set a national pacing record in 1969.

The introduction of the Totaliser Agency Board raised the standard of harness racing. New tracks were opened at Mowbray (1987) and Devonport (1990), and in 1981 Elwick was reconstructed and hosted the prestigious Inter-Dominion. In the 1980s about 120 trotting meetings took place each year, but crowds decreased and by 2003 there were only 82, though income from the TAB kept the industry viable.

Further reading: D Young, Sporting Island, Hobart, 2005.

Alison Alexander and David Young