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Waples, Zeron On WEG's New Starting Gate

Published: January 13, 2011 1:01 pm ET

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Two of Woodbine Entertainment Group's top teamsters have commented on the new Autostart Speed Control system now in use at Woodbine Racetrack.

WEG looks to offer the best services and facilities for horsepeople and the latest evidence of that is the implementation of the Autostart Speed Control system earlier this month. Autostart Speed Control is a system developed in Sweden and widely used throughout Europe which automatically controls the speed of the starting gate car during the start sequence, arguably one of the most critical elements in harness racing. A computer unit measures the speed of the car and regulates the throttle to make the vehicle travel at the programmed speeds.

Trot Insider reported last week on the new starting gate system, and WEG's tracks are the first to use this device in North America.

"The major benefit of 'Autostart' is that it will improve the consistency of the standardbred starts," said Bruce Murray, WEG's Vice-President of Standardbred Racing. "And if desired, there is the ability to input different settings depending on the class of horses. For example, you could have a speed for maiden trotters and another one for seasoned horses.

"We owe a lot of credit to the likes of Per Henriksen and Bill O'Donnell, who put us onto Autostart," said Murray. "Once the research was done and connection made to the manufacturer, we committed to moving forward. Kalle and Christian Darnell arrived from Sweden to install the system and educate our staff. Our Starter James Roselle has embraced the concept from the outset and the horsemen have been supportive and providing valuable feedback. We're confident this is a very worthwhile investment that will improve the product."

The consistency of Autostart, used at more than 40 racetracks in Europe, should prove to benefit both drivers and wagering customers.

"The objective is that drivers will receive safe, clean starts and equally important is the fact handicappers will benefit by horses getting away from the gate as evenly as possible," said Murray.

While early in the process, the local racing community is endorsing the of Autostart innovation.

"I think it's the greatest thing in the world because you know exactly where you're going," said driver Rick Zeron, who first saw the Autostart system in place at Sweden's famed Elitlopp race. "The speeds aren't going to vary and you know how fast you are going to be going every race. It eliminates (any miscommunication between drivers and the starter), because we already know exactly how fast the gate is going to go. So now we just judge how far back we want to be before the gate starts moving."

Randy Waples, WEG's leading driver in 2010 and up for an O'Brien Award as Canada's Top Driver, sees the potential in the technology. "If this makes the starts more consistent and we have a better idea on how to place our horses it's definitely worth giving a shot. It will be an adjustment to horses and drivers but I'm all for it."

In tandem with Autostart is a LED clock on top of the Starting Gate which notifies the drivers with a countdown sequence to ensure they are in proper position when the car begins to move. An override feature can also be employed by the Starter in the event of a horse with broken equipment or a safety matter.

The Autostart Speed Control system is installed on a new gate, custom built by the Howard Starting Gate Company of Ohio. Howard Ridenour, owner of the Howard operation, started building starting gates in 1958 and in 1970. It is perched aboard a 2010 Chevy Avalanche.

The new Avalanche was sent to Ohio to continue the operational process. The gate took two months to build and mount aboard the truck. The truck/gate combo returned to Mohawk in mid-October where the Swedish manufacturers arrived to install Autostart. Testing was subsequently conducted during Fall qualifying races.

WEG's 2005 Ford Excursion Starting Gate will be retained and used as a back-up.

(with files from WEG)

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