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Aqueduct Gate Crew just Sucks

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  • #21
    A VERY dangerous job. A friend of mine was killed a few months ago in a starting gate accident, and he was an amazing handler.

    Some crews ARE just bad, and plenty of blame for that can be put on the starter as he's the one in charge and it seems from my experience that when you have a forceful and impatient starter, you're going to have a similar crew. The starter is often in charge of schooling in the mornings so if you have bad schooling then, it's going to show. We had a particularly awful crew in NM who worked under a horrible starter (who, if a horse would even look funny when walking to the gates schooling he would bring out a whip and crack them). However if you went to a track in the same circuit under a different starter with half the same crew, they would be totally different, much calmer and patient with the horses.

    I think they are necessary to have in the gates but I do agree that many horses would be better off without being held so firmly. However their job is to protect the riders and they need to be prepared for a split second explosion. Getting them into the gates every second counts and there isn't any time to play games, it could literally cost somebody or some horse their life. And I'm sure you are seeing "new guys" on the crew, that might not have a ton of horse experience (with it being such a dangerous and low paying job I can't imagine tons of people are lining up for it-they probably have to take who they can get). There is a lot more to horses than just leading them forward and they have to learn along the way how to read body language and handle a horse in a wide variety of situations.

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    • #22
      I would like to add about the differences between UK racing and American as far as the gate. What I think is the difference is the start in the UK is not as important as the start over here, horses run farther and have much more time to overcome a bad break and find position. Horses warm up generally farther in the UK taking some of the piss and vinegar out of the horses before they reach the gate...is it better? I have no idea really, just know that when I've been on a bad actor in the gate I was grateful to have another set of hands in there with me!

      In the U.S they really strive to have a "fair" clean break so at least all the horses start out on an even keel.

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      • #23
        As an exercise rider in NY, I know those guys, and wouldn't criticize. They have a thankless job, and do a good job keeping the riders and horses safe. Don't like it? Try it yourself. It's nothing like you would expect.
        Different Times Equestrian Ventures at Hidden Spring Ranch
        www.DifferentTimesEquestrianVentures.com

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        • #24
          Almost wonder how close to a race ready Thoroughbred the OP has been, to wonder about the necessity of gate crew. And, yes, the three NYRA tracks have an excellent crew.

          Well, perhaps watching online makes one an expert. Like watching football/basketball/baseball on TV. Would like to see the OP attend a live race meeting at a good quality track, and get up close in the paddock, or by the starting gate. Then maybe the OP would have a bit more appreciation of what's involved.

          They need the end of a lead to get the horse's attention to get in the gate?!? Have you ever been in a stall with a mindful Thoroughbred when they're distracted by something?

          At the time they're in the gate is not when we should be espousing the best ground manners, and expecting that gentle handling works with every horse. These horses have their minds on something else.
          But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn't there at all. H.C.Anderson

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          • #25
            I could play both sides of this, but mostly agree that the starter's job is incredibly dangerous and thankless (although plenty of riders have their favorite starters because of their experience and/or skill in saving their hides).

            I dislike the brutality that some of the starters exhibit with horses that are 1) frightened, 2) poorly trained in gate work, 3) trying to "tell" them something (e.g. I am too *(& damn sore to do this), etc. IMHO, having a patient, skilled starter is critical for successful gate training, especially with youngsters.

            I've seen my share of scarey gate incidents and experienced a few that impacted me as well. Years ago my favorite mare was loaded, standing quietly when the starter decided to "ear" her, at which point she freaked out just when the gate sprung. Rider stood on the rails and she exited without him and proceeded to run....and run....being chased by the outrider. When she finally was caught she was predictably exhausted but at least didn't jump the rail and get dinged up. I examined the video and saw her being quiet, jock even said so. I think the starter was a heavy-handed sort who doesn't really like horses all that much.

            That being said, my son is a starter and he has been credited with saving jocks a few times. He's been banged up plenty but, for the most part, likes his job and working with the horses. He was with his fellow starter, a close friend, when he was double barrelled in the chest and subsequently died. This job is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for a bully.

            I hadn't recalled Quality Road's antics until I watched that video. I can remember thinking on that day that he should have been scratched way before he broke through the front of the gate and went berzerk. That handler was at the business end of an out-of-control animal at that point. I bet the connections for the other horses were thinking the same thing.

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            • #26
              Originally posted by Timex View Post
              As an exercise rider in NY, I know those guys, and wouldn't criticize. They have a thankless job, and do a good job keeping the riders and horses safe. Don't like it? Try it yourself. It's nothing like you would expect.
              I bet you know my old friend Sparky!

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              • #27
                I can not work out from all this if a handler, on foot, is standing in the actual stall holding a horse (and with no hat on) before 'the off'? That sounds horrendously dangerous!

                The handlers in the UK are frequently praised for their skill and horsemanship. They have to wear hats. They do not stand in the stalls with the animal. Horses that are difficult have to be re-trained and tested before they are allowed back on the course. Incidents in the stall are really very rare. The horses are well able to stand still until it is time to go.
                "Good young horses are bred, but good advanced horses are trained" Sam Griffiths

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                • #28
                  Originally posted by Willesdon View Post
                  I can not work out from all this if a handler, on foot, is standing in the actual stall holding a horse (and with no hat on) before 'the off'? That sounds horrendously dangerous!
                  Yes. In the US, there is a handler in the starting gate with the horse, standing on a ledge up by it's head. The ledge puts them about even with the jockey.

                  Honestly, the first time I realized that, I damned near had a panic attack. Let's stick a super fit 1200# animal in a metal box the size of a straight load trailer slot, with someone on it's back AND another person standing there to keep it pointed in the right direction? Sign me up! (Shudder.)

                  You can see the starters pretty well here: http://www.baltimoresun.com/videogal...-starting-gate

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                  • #29
                    Originally posted by Willesdon View Post
                    I can not work out from all this if a handler, on foot, is standing in the actual stall holding a horse (and with no hat on) before 'the off'? That sounds horrendously dangerous!
                    Photo illustration (Feb 20, 2011)- the assistant stands on ledge along side the horse but in an elevated position.

                    Not exactly something just introduced into horse racing yesterday. When horses are schooled at the gate there are people around the horse.

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                    • #30
                      Here's another shot that shows the starters well, from Quality Road's Breeders Cup race that was linked before.

                      http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_RVLfSMIB7K...ityroad_mk.jpg

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                      • #31
                        Originally posted by Glimmerglass View Post


                        Not exactly something just introduced into horse racing yesterday. When horses are schooled at the gate there are people around the horse.
                        Dude, no need to get snippy. The person who's post you were responding to is not from the US. To people that are not familiar with North American racing (and a few of the South American countries, like Argentina) the idea of having a person standing next to EVERY horse in the gate is a very odd concept.
                        In the rest of the world horses are loaded, and by and large stand still with just the jockey on the their back until the gate opens.

                        France

                        England

                        Dubai

                        Japan

                        Italy

                        Germany

                        Ireland

                        Australia

                        New Zealand

                        South Africa

                        So if Willesdon is hearing for the first time that EVERY horse has a person hanging onto it's head, and also hearing from every poster in the thread that it is an ABSOLUTE necessity, then yeah, it's going to strike him/her as a bit odd. So cut him/her some slack here.

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                        • #32
                          Thank you Drvmb1ggl3 for coming to my defense!

                          For added interest, this is an explanation of the Starters duties on a UK race course, the stalls handlers being the people who load the animals http://www.britishhorseracing.com/re...asp#FlatvsJump

                          Interestingly, the welfare of the horse has priority. Bad behavior is assumed to be caused invisible injury or pain and the horse is not run.
                          "Good young horses are bred, but good advanced horses are trained" Sam Griffiths

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                          • #33
                            Very interesting Willesdon! It's left me wondering though, how many horses are scratched because of acting up in the gate? Just wonder how bad they have to be? For what it's worth, I've seen some good sound runners just not like the gate, no matter the schooling, would be a shame if they didn't get to run because of it.

                            Also, as a former rider it's hard to imagine leaving the resposibility of pulling off a blindfold to the jockey, I know they are on loose, but still, if it got hung up on a buckle, etc. and the gate was sprung...

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                            • #34
                              I agree that it is a really thankless and dangerous job, but for sure there are some crews better trained than others and using more progressive methods that are not so harsh on the horse.

                              Also, in response to the horses being trained, ours start out walking through the starting gate every time they went to the training track here in FL and then learning to stop on there and eventually load and start. They all have to get their "gate card". That said, we've had some who were fine for all of this, but race day were completely nuts - adrenaline will do that for some. My nice 3 year old filly was TERRIBLE for 5 starts and had to get extra schooling in the gate and the ok from the Starter after flipping. She had to be loaded last for a couple of starts because she was fractious, but now she stands like a rock and is very settled - she was just very green and set on GO despite having been in and around starting gates from the time she was a long yearling.

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                              • #35
                                Originally posted by Drvmb1ggl3 View Post
                                Dude, no need to get snippy. The person who's post you were responding to is not from the US.
                                If an apology from me is in order so be it. The tone wasn't snippy nor was my remark in the second paragraph (which was not in bold) expressly to any single poster. The photo alone was directed to Willesdon for illustration.

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                                • #36
                                  Thank you to everyone who has enlightened me on the difference between UK and USA racing. Always interesting to learn something new.
                                  "Good young horses are bred, but good advanced horses are trained" Sam Griffiths

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                                  • #37
                                    Husband (who trained TB's for 30 yrs) were discussing this thread last night and the difference in training youngsters here and in Europe. Yes, we walk babies thru the gate early on at the farms everyday, but once they arrive at the track they are only going to go to the gate on gate days...which is usually 3 or 4 days per week. Once they get their gate card, they are usually sent to the gate to stand if they still seem anxious, or the odd breeze from the gate. That's about it.

                                    Wondering what goes on in the yards over the pond, do they continue to walk through the gates even after they have started? Is that their normal "routine?" I think I remember seeing a clip somewhere where it seemed pretty standard.

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                                    • #38
                                      Interesting that the OP doesnt hold the actual trainers of the horses (at home first) and gait schooling more responsible. That is where the education starts. It is a very difficult job, esp as the riding phase is shortened more and more, and sprinting is a major quest. (And it is a big difference from before there even were gates)
                                      I.D.E.A. yoda

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                                      • #39
                                        Originally posted by Glimmerglass View Post
                                        Photo illustration (Feb 20, 2011)- the assistant stands on ledge along side the horse but in an elevated position.

                                        Not exactly something just introduced into horse racing yesterday. When horses are schooled at the gate there are people around the horse.
                                        Just curious - why do they kick out foot like that? Is it to get it out of the way of the moving horse?
                                        APPSOLUTE CHOCKLATE - Photo by Kathy Colman

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                                        • #40
                                          Originally posted by Appsolute View Post
                                          Just curious - why do they kick out foot like that? Is it to get it out of the way of the moving horse?
                                          Yes, one hand holds the gate, one the rein and they move forward as the horse is breaking. They are standing on a very narrow ledge, so it's all a matter of balance.

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