Start­ing gate over­haul a no-brainer

Matamata Chronicle - - News - DEN­NIS RYAN Rac­ing colum­nist

The cost of run­ning rac­ing with in­tegrity and ef­fi­ciency is never with­out its chal­lenges, as high­lighted re­cently over the short-com­ings of start­ing gates that are used through­out the North Is­land.

Prob­lems with horses not get­ting a fair start from the Cad­dystyle gates that have been in use for decades, are any­thing but a new phe­nom­e­non. The prover­bial hit the fan last week, how­ever, when Pussy O’Reilly, a high­pro­file race­mare trained by Mata­mata cou­ple Bev and Ken Kelso and raced by prom­i­nent own­ers Sir Pa­trick Ho­gan and Peter Walker, was ruled a non-run­ner after fin­ish­ing fourth as sec­ond favourite in the $100,000 Auck­land Thor­ough­bred Breed­ers’ Stakes at Avon­dale.

The prob­lem was that Pussy O’Reilly’s start­ing gate did not open with the rest of the field and she missed the jump by sev­eral lengths. She did re­mark­ably well to fin­ish less than two lengths from the win­ner, but un­der the rules gov­ern­ing such a sce­nario she was ruled a non-run­ner and all bets on her were re­funded.

She cer­tainly wasn’t the first horse to be so af­fected – a to­tal of four were ruled non-run­ners after start­ing gate mal­func­tions at a sin­gle ma­jor Hast­ings race­day in Septem­ber – and stake­hold­ers are jus­ti­fied in say­ing Pussy O’Reilly won’t be the last un­less the is­sue is ad­dressed.

For­tu­nately, work was al­ready tak­ing place in the back­ground at the time of the Pussy O’Reilly in­ci­dent and it has since been con­firmed that more mod­ern over­head start­ing gates – as used at Eller­slie for sev­eral years - are set to be­come the norm.

Is­sues around the old- style gates had been con­sid­ered, with North­ern Race­day Ser­vices that sup­plies start­ing gates and bar­rier staff to north­ern venues, among those in­volved, along with the lower North Is­land equiv­a­lent of NRS and code gov­ern­ing body New Zealand Thor­ough­bred Rac­ing.

As such, NZTR has agreed to make a con­tri­bu­tion to the cost of new start­ing gates un­der its strate­gic fund­ing pol­icy, as­sist­ing the two race­day providers to pur­chase a trans­portable set each, as well as des­ig­nated rac­ing clubs that will be in­cluded in the roll-out of new gates. The cost of a trans­portable set and cus­tomised trailer is ex­pected to be in the vicin­ity of $200,000.

The un­doubted ad­van­tage of Caddy gates has been the ease with which they can be com­pressed and trans­ported be­tween rac­ing venues. The com­pli­ca­tion with over­head gates is that they are con­structed with a fixed frame and while that en­hances their ef­fi­ciency, it im­pacts on their trans­porta­bil­ity.

As such, NRS will be able to im­ple­ment a max­i­mum size of 14 in­di­vid­ual gates, on a trailer de­signed to meet trans­port reg­u­la­tions.

That’s why ma­jor venues have been in­cluded with the in­ten­tion for per­ma­nent gates to be in­stalled and thus en­able larger field sizes. Mata­mata, which has a max­i­mum field limit of 16 at op­ti­mum start­ing points, is in­cluded in the list of ma­jor venues ex­pected to pur­chase their own set of Aus­tralian man­u­fac­tured over­head gates.

At an es­ti­mated cost of $150,000 and even in­clud­ing a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion from NZTR, that level of cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture is still a chal­lenge for clubs.

Photo: TR­ISH DUNELL

BEST OP­TION: Start­ing gates sim­i­lar to those in use at Eller­slie are set to be­come the norm.

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