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A New Start For WEG


Published: January 6, 2011 11:09 am ET

Last Comment: January 6, 2011 4:11 pm ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

There was a new start to harness racing for the new year at Woodbine Racetrack on Monday, as a new starting gate was introduced. The gate ensures more consistency for both horsemen and handicappers.

The new starting gate features a 60-second countdown clock display on top of the gate to visibly notify drivers when the race will begin. When the clock reaches zero, starter James Roselle is prompted to push the automatic start button, which then causes the gates to fold at the same speed every race. The gate also has an override feature for recalls when broken equipment or interference is spotted, for example, reducing any safety concerns with the auto start feature.

Roselle, who has been a full-time starter for three years now with the Woodbine Entertainment Group, told Trot Insider that the new gate will assist with communication between the starter and drivers, and remove any human errors from the equation, thus resulting in more consistent starts.

“My job as a judge is to make sure everybody is there,” said Roselle. “I sometimes get the story ‘I couldn’t hear you’ or ‘I couldn’t see you’ or ‘I didn’t know it was time to go’ or ‘you went too fast’ or ‘you went too slow’ from drivers. This way they know it’s the exact same each time. As they get to know their horses, they can have faith in the routine and in the gate that they know and they can plan around the consistent start.

“And the other benefit is for me. It does make my job easier and easier to hold them accountable as well. That’s one thing I found tough as a judge is to say to drivers you were off the gate. Everybody’s got a reason why they were off the gate. Some are legitimate and some aren’t and the ones that are in a grey area I’ve had a hard time defining and saying to a guy 'well, I’m going to fine you $200.' They might have had a valid point because there is human error in everything and I think this is going to take a lot of that out of there, especially on my part.”

The new gate has been in use during qualifiers for the past two months, but made its pari-mutuel debut on Monday to some positive reviews.

“Monday night was our first night and because it’s still new, the drivers are trying to time it and know exactly how it works so we had some horses come into the gate hard,” said Roselle, who noted that the new gate results in a slower start time. “There is going to be an adjustment period but I was happy and felt pretty confident by the end of Monday night’s 12 races that we’re on the right track.”

“It’s a little early yet and it’s a bit of adjustment at first, but I think in the long run it’s going to be terrific,” said driver Paul MacDonell. “It’s going to be very consistent all the time and once everyone gets the feel for it, it will be great. It’s a consistent speed so I think that is going to be the biggest benefit of all.”

“After only one night of racing, I like what I see,” added trainer-driver Roger Mayotte. “The consistent starts will be a great benefit for both the drivers and the starter knowing that the gate is programmed to go the same each race. The biggest complaint I’ve heard from the drivers is not being able to read the one minute countdown light on top of the roof because it is illuminated in red. I think white lights would allow us to see is from a further distance.”

The initial idea of introducing the automatic start gate at WEG was led by Roselle, Per Henriksen, last year’s O’Brien Award winner for Horsemanship, and Bruce Murray, WEG's vice-president of Standardbred Racing.

“Ninety-nine per cent of the time everything goes well, but the other one per cent I found things that were really off, so I’ve communicated that to Bruce and it’s been an ongoing thing and they’ve been great with me as far as anything I wanted [to] try to do. This came up and Per had suggested it and I believe through COSA and Bill O’Donnell they also had a part in seeing if we could go ahead with it. It was a very large financial expense to get all this done.”

The gate is manufactured in Sweden and is in use at many racetracks in Europe but is new to Canada. Roselle said that if the positive reviews continue, there may be a push to try to make the gates mandatory in Ontario.

“It’s going to be a consistent start for drivers and also be good for trainers to know if they have to hang a horse up a little bit different, but it’s also good for the public to know that every time they are going to get the exact same thing," said Roselle. "It’s one thing on the list of many things that needs to be fixed with horse racing that can maybe make the betting public more confident in our product. I think it’s going to make a better product overall. I think it’s a good initiative on WEG’s part."

January 6, 2011 - 4:11 pmgood work guys,thats a good

good work guys,thats a good start,,lets continue in progress.

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