The inadequacies of the Caddy style starting gates commonly in use
on raceday arose again at Avondale today, but the good news is that a
solution is close to being found.
That will come as scant consolation to the connections and backers of
Pussy O’Reilly, one of the leading fancies in the Gr. 2 NRM/Auckland
Breeders’ Stakes. She was a clear last to hit the ground when the start
was made in the 1400-metre feature before making up a big slice of
ground for fourth.
The siren sounded shortly afterwards and at a subsequent inquiry it
was established that Pussy O’Reilly was the latest victim of a
slow-opening gate and she was ruled a non-runner. In the previous race
Biggin Hill had been similarly affected before finishing third, but that
The difference in the two cases is the racing rule common to both New
Zealand and Australia. Even if a horse’s chances have been affected by a
starting gate malfunction, if it finishes in the first three the
placing must stand, whereas any affected horse finishing fourth or worse
must be ruled a non-starter.
Not even the pleas of Pussy O’Reilly’s co-trainer Ken Kelso and the
valuable mare’s owners, industry heavyweights Sir Patrick Hogan and
Peter Walker, could alter the stance of today’s Judicial Control
“Once again the connections and punters lose out through no fault of
their own,” said Kelso. “How would you like to be the owners having to
wave goodbye to the stake or a punter with a First4 ticket on her?
“We all realise what the rule states and that it has to be observed,
but it just highlights how hopelessly inadequate these gates are.”
To their credit, Counties Racing Club officials have advised Pussy
O’Reilly’s connections that they will be compensated for the $5,000
forfeited stake and starting costs. That, however, raises the matter of
where starting gate malfunctions leave clubs.
The most glaring recent example came on the middle day of the Hawke’s
Bay spring carnival when four horses were deemed to have been affected
by gate malfunctions and declared non-runners. Not only did each set of
connections have to absorb the loss, but the club suffered a significant
turnover loss from cancelled bets, as did the industry at large whose
lifeblood is betting turnover.
If there’s a silver lining to this cloud, it’s that planning is under
way for more modern overhead starting gates to be introduced at venues
that have continued to rely on Caddy gates. Overhead gates have been in
use at Ellerslie for several years, while other tracks using them
include Riccarton and numerous venues in the South Island.
Northern Raceday Services, the club-backed organisation that supplies
starting gates to the majority of venues in the top half of the North
Island, has been well aware of issues and initially looked at modifying
the starting mechanisms of its Caddy gates.
But in response to ongoing stakeholder pressure, NRS, lower North
Island suppliers and New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing have set in place a
process that in the near future is expected to usher in overhead gates
across the board.
The NRS model involves transporting gates to northern venues, a
practice simplified by the foldable Caddy gates. However, Australian
overhead gates supplier Steriline has recently submitted design plans to
NRS that will enable a 14-stall set of overhead gates to be transported
Plans are also in train for venues that host a significant volume of
racing to secure their own permanent sets of overhead gates. In all
cases funding has yet to be finalised, but NZTR has indicated support
under its strategic funding initiative.
NRS is meeting again this week to advance its transportable overhead gates plan in the hope of implementation early next year.
“We know the current situation cannot continue and we’ve resolved to
address it,” NRS chairman Roger Blake said today. “Northern Raceday
Services is a non-profit organisation and as such we don’t have large
resources, but with NZTR’s help we believe we can find an overhead
“It’s anticipated that the gates themselves and a purpose-built
trailer will cost in excess of $200,000, but we believe that’s
achievable, it really has to be.
"It’s not going to happen overnight as we have to observe processes
and there’s a time factor in constructing the gates and the trailer, but
hopefully we’ll have the new gates operational by February or March.”