November 11, 2020 National Trotguide
HORSEMEN and punters are demanding that New Zealand’s standing start procedures must change after another shambolic start to this year’s New Zealand Trotting Cup.
In one of the worst starts to the country’s richest race, the horses drawn on the outside got a flyer, eventual winner Self Assured already pacing at speed when the tapes were released, while the five horses drawn the inside were virtually motionless.
Self Assured, Ashley Locaz and Henry Hubert all got a decent jump on their rivals; they hit the first turn at the front of the field, and were still there at the finish, running first, third and fourth.
The favourite Copy That, standing on the inside, was one of the worst affected, his driver Blair Orange adamant his chances were extinguished.
Orange said the start was far worse than the first attempt which was called off by starter Peter Lamb.
Instead of blowing the whistle again, the starter let the field go and the result saw Copy That settle at the rear.
After having to make a big run round the field to park, he ran out of petrol in the home straight, finishing eighth.
Lincoln Farms trainer Ray Green was assailed by angry horsemen and punters as soon as he returned to the stable.
“People were beside themselves, foaming at the mouth about how bad it was. I got sick of listening to it all to be honest but they are right, it was just a joke. The whole system needs to be changed,” said Green.
“All the horses drawn the inside lost their chance.
“They were standing flat-footed while the horses on the outside were running.”
Green said he knew some people would say his protest was just sour grapes because Copy That was beaten but he said everyone he talked to was calling for action against the starter.
“He seems to do what he likes and if we don’t like it, too bad.”
Watching the race on TV in Melbourne, Copy That’s owner Merv Butterworth could hardly believe his eyes when a false start wasn’t called.
“I thought New Zealand’s standing start process was supposed to give every horse an equal chance at the start. Today’s performance destroyed that belief.”
Green said it was in harness racing’s interests that a review was held immediately.
“There don’t seem to be any rules and these guys are killing the game. Why would you bet on a race like that again?
“There was a huge amount of money bet on the race and most of it was on us.
“The game is in enough trouble without this going on.”
Green said the experience had soured him on a return south any time soon.
“It’s disappointing because it’s expensive to come down here.
“I’ll be very reluctant to come down and race in a standing start again unless they do something about this.
“I’m not saying we would have won but our chance was extinguished in the first 10 metres, along with the others alongside us.
“Copy That wasn’t the fastest away but it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d begun like a bullet, those others were away and gone. The race was ruined. As soon as the first turn came up you knew the result.”
Standing start races have been a problem for Harness Racing New Zealand for many years with a number of different guidelines issued to starters.
The procedure has differed around the country, with some starters insisting horses move up to the tape and come to a halt. Others allow a moving start.
A system of walking up, pausing, then letting the field go was also tried but horsemen complained some horses became unbalanced.
Starters currently have the discretion on how they operate.
Internet chat sites lit up on Tuesday night with scores of people complaining about the start.
One punter, who actually backed Self Assured, and collected, admitted: “That simply wasn’t fair.”
Chairman of stewards Nick Ydgren said the starter was questioned about why the outside runners were allowed to address the barrier quicker than the inside ones.
“He said he gave the call to come up and noticed the inside runners were slow to respond so he gave them an additional call to come up.
“He noticed Blair reining up Copy That and Thefixer coming forward, looked to the outside, then let them go believing they were approaching at similar speed.”
But our investigations reveal Lamb, crucially, did not have a good side-on view of the horses which enabled him to best see their comparative speed and positions.
The starter controlled the start in the tower at the 2000 metre mark which is on the outside of the track and forward of the field and gives a more head-on view. The position is further forward of the field than the post he uses for 2600 metre races.
Ydgren said at a recent review it was suggested Lamb could stand in a different position to allow him to better assess the speed of the front line horses.
“He preferred to stay where he was because it had the advantage of better seeing if there was any interference.”
Ydgren said the first start in the cup was aborted when Lamb heard driver Jim Curtin call out that there was contact between his horse Tango Tara and Ashley Locaz, who were on the outside.
Ydgren said while Lamb had obviously not correctly read the speed of the outside horses in the second attempt, the advantage they gained over the inside runners was exaggerated on the television view, which was not directly side on.
“But Self Assured was rushing up into his position.”
Ydgren confirmed there was no set rule governing standing starts.
“But we have put together a document that moves all the standing start rules into the regulations to provide a lot more uniformity nationwide and we hope HRNZ adopts it.
“It doesn’t stipulate one particular method. The only way to stop unfair starts is to make a rule that every horse must stand but that hasn’t been favoured in the past.
“My preferred option is that we don’t tie the starters to one method. If the whole field can walk up in unison, and no horse impedes another, why wouldn’t you let them go?
“I wouldn’t like to remove the discretion of the starter so he can get as many horses away as safely and fairly as possible.”
- BARRY LICHTER