Harness Racing Australia
  Gear and Equipment

Sulkies - Standard for Safety and Performance of Sulkies
"The Sulky Standard"

Issued 27th August 2002



1. The Australian Harness Racing Council at its 2001 Annual General Meeting held on 19th October 2001 to discontinue the use of Wooden and Wooden Shafted Sulkies in races (and including all official trials) from the commencement of the next season 1st September 2002.

2.  On 14th February 2002, Council wrote to all Sulky Manufacturers on this issue. An examination of the correspondence  provided disclosed that:

(i)   External or surface inspection of wooden sulkies will not reveal significant internal flaws, primarily corrosion.

 (ii)   Dry rot is likely to occur and will lead to the shaft breaking (including the possibility of both shafts
        breaking simultaneously).

(iii) It is unlikely that wooden sulkies will be restored because of the substantial cost involved.

(iv) Stainless steel shafts are safer.

Both legal and bio-mechanical engineering advice was sought which recommended the discontinuance of the use of wooden and wooden shafted sulkies.  Correspondence was forwarded to all Council Members and relevant Trainer and Driver Industry bodies as a consequence in April 2002 and subsequently.

3.  “Work” Sulkies
Drivers and Trainers when using wooden and/or wooden shafted sulkies as “Work” Sulkies are advised to exercise due care and judgement particularly when considering “fast work” in association with other trainers and/or drivers. It is suggested that trainers and drivers ensure that regular inspections together with proper care and maintenance by either the sulky’s manufacturer and/or an industry acknowledged sulky repairer are regularly undertaken on existing wooden and wooden shafted sulkies.

4.  Drivers Legal Liability Insurance Claims
Advice has now been received from Liberty International Underwriters that they will exclude any insurance claims arising from the use of wooden and wooden shafted sulkies by harness racing drivers in races or official trials.

5.  Council after the Chief Executives and Chairmen of Stewards Meetings recently held reaffirmed the above decision.

6.  The Chairmen of Stewards requested that the Current Sulky Standard as it pertains to Metal Sulkies be reviewed and
 the inspection procedures be developed as part of this Review.

7.  Technical advice indicates and Council recommends to Sulky Manufacturers and/or Sulky Repairers that the following
 material be used in shafts:-

    a.   38.1 Outside Diameter x 0.9mm wall thickness, hard drawn to minimum 950 Mpa yield. In the case of this
          material, it can be either Type 301 or 304, or

b.   38.1 Outside Diameter x 1.2mm or greater wall thickness “as welded” T304 Stainless Steel tube.

Note:  It is recommended that annealed stainless steel not be used in a shaft application.

8. Following Council’s decision to discontinue the use of Wooden and Wooden Shafted Sulkies as from 1st September 2002 there has been a number of enquiries to State Controlling Bodies.  Leading Australian Sulky Manufacturer Jim Walsh, A.S.T.C, Managing Director R.J. Walsh & Son Pty Ltd has provided a detailed statement.  The firm’s statement is printed in full for the information of industry participants:

Regal Sulkies

My company R.J. Walsh & Son Pty Limited does not recommend replacing wooden shafts with tubular stainless steel shafts in existing wooden shafted sulkies for the following reasons:

a.    The ride quality of a sulky is primarily determined by the spring in the shafts and back bend. Wooden shafts are twice as springy or flexible as tubular stainless shafts of the same outside diameter, therefore, if the metal shafts are substituted for wooden shafts, they will flex very much less when the vehicle hits a bump, and the ride will be very much harsher. Sports medicine specialists have written that most trainers and drivers already have some back injuries, and I believe it would be folly for a manufacturer to knowingly expose them to more by supplying metal shafts as replacements for wood shafts on existing vehicles. New stainless steel shafted sulkies are balanced to flex like timber shafts and thus give an acceptable ride, but in most cases the old wood shafted sulkies cannot be successfully rebalanced to give an acceptable ride when fitted with metal shafts.

b.   The tubular steel back bend of most wood shafted sulkies has a wall thickness of 1.6mm, whereas nearly all metal shafted sulkies have back bends with a wall thickness of 1.2mm, meaning that shafts made for all metal sulkies simply will not fit the back bends of wood shafted sulkies.

The call for metal shafts reduced to suit 1.6mm thick back bends has declined in recent years to practically zero, so that when my company’s carbide matrix reducing tool broke earlier this year, we decided not to spend approximately $1,000 on a replacement. So we do not presently have the capacity to make steel shafts capable of fitting the back bends of the great majority of wood shafted sulkies.

c.    If the above difficulties could be overcome, a suitable metal shaft installation would also require a new cross bar and matching footrests. The total cost of shafts, cross bar, footrests and fasteners would be approximately $830. I believe few, if any, participants seeking to get by with replacing their old wood shafts with stainless steel shafts, would be prepared to spend that much. Far more likely is it that they would try and use their old cross bar and footrests, and in so doing drill holes in the top and bottom surfaces of the shafts. Those holes are very likely to lead to premature failure of the shafts.

d.   The great majority of wood shafted sulkies are 1.17 metres in maximum width. Thus, even if the shafts were replaced with metal ones, the sulky itself is likely to be below the minimum required width under current legislation of 1.2 metres, and be banned from use on that account alone. It would be possible to replace the back bend and undercarriage to get over this problem, but by then the cost of the conversion would be about $1,450, and you would still NOT have a sulky anywhere near as satisfactory as a new one which costs $1,625.

For the reasons outlined above, I am not aware of any satisfactory method of replacing wooden shafts with stainless steel shafts in existing wooden shafted sulkies. Furthermore, there is every reason to believe that the short of replacements demanded by participants – and most likely to be performed – may be dangerous as well as uncomfortable. Therefore my company does not offer stainless steel shaft conversions, and would not do so if asked.

The recent Chairmen of Stewards Conference advises that industry participants note this statement.  It is important to note the action recommended and stewards will inspect sulkies and this leading manufacturer’s advice will be taken into account when and where sulkies are inspected.

Given that the Members of the Australian Harness Racing Council will be running Council’s own Insurance Fund on behalf of all drivers and trainers licensed in their jurisdictions this statement above should be considered.  Any subsequent investigation of an accident and claim after 1st September 2002 involving a previous wooden or wooden shafted sulky will be taken into account in any claim pursued through the Insurance Fund.

Please read the above statements carefully.

Rod Pollock
Chief Executive

26th July 2002

Effective Date of Implementation:  14th June 1992, and various dated amendments

back to top