Horse Racing

More than just a race day phenomenon

Starting gate crew – the work they do

BY RUDDY ALLEN
Observer staff

Friday, September 08, 2017

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On any given race day, the starting gate crew oversees the start of each race, ensuring that all horses are loaded quickly for a fair start. While starting gate attendants are visible on race days, their work as a vital part of the racing industry is not limited to race days only.

Dwayne Timoll, assistant starter to Michael Simms at Caymanas Park, who has been working at the starting gate from 2000, said there is more to the work of the starting gate crew than simply loading horses.

Timoll said that during the morning training hours, they supervise gate-schooling for young horses and even for experienced runners who have problems at the gates.

“Well, it can be very difficult at times, depending on the horses. [Off the bat], I would say the most difficult set of horses to school are the two-year-olds, especially if they are coming to the racetrack for the first time.

“It is a new environment they are coming into, so they tend to get very fractious and thing. I mean, you have to teach them to go into the starting gates, and most of them really don't want to go into the starting gates at all.

“Some of them come to the racetrack really crazy and behave badly, so we have to be very careful how we deal with them. Our job is more than just putting horses into the gates and pressing the button to let go, as we have other duties to perform,” Timoll told the Supreme Racing Guide.

He then pointed out that the difference in behaviour can indicate when a horse is well-schooled, as the way they present themselves is much better and appealing compared to the mischievous ones.

“For example, the two-year-olds, when they come to the racetrack and you put the chain on them and you see that they are backing up, or when you try to play with their faces and they have their heads up in the air and flashing them all over the place, you know they are not properly schooled.

“When they (horses) come to us at the starting gates in the mornings and you put the chain on them and they drop their heads and you can play with them, then you know that they are properly schooled,” he explained.

The gate crew regularly confers with trainers to discover any known quirks or issues that their charges may have. In addition, the gate crew regularly interacts with a wide variety of racing industry professionals, including jockeys, veterinarians, exercise riders, and other track personnel.

If a horse is showing unwillingness to enter the starting gate, Timoll said that there are several techniques used to safely guide the animal into the area without harming him.

“I know every horse at Caymanas Park – what problems they have in terms of loading into the starting gates and what problems they have once they are inside of the gates. The starter and I have a paper with a list of the horses with their [particular]problems.

“If a horse proves to be a challenge to load, the starter may direct the gate crew to use a variety of loading techniques, such as the use of blindfolds or gate blankets, having the jockey dismount for loading, opening the front gate to encourage a horse to enter, or having gate crew members band together to physically push a reluctant horse in,” Timoll said.

Although his job may be considered as one of the most dangerous occupations in thoroughbred racing, Timoll said that he takes pride in what he is doing because he enjoys his profession.

“It is a very dangerous job, but I wouldn't say my job is a very difficult one. I know what I am doing, but sometimes the horses are very rude. [Nevertheless], I wouldn't give up this work for any other job,” Timoll said.

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