Starting gate overhaul a no-brainer
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.
BEST OPTION: Starting gates similar to those in use at Ellerslie are set to become the norm.