Standing Starts Don’t Stand Up


Walking round

5.1 Horses will be girthed up in the girthing up pen unless otherwise instructed by the Starter.

5.2 When all horses are girthed up and the Starter has mounted the rostrum, the horses will enter the course and must, where possible, walk around at least twenty-five yards back from the tape.

5.3 Horses girthed up on the course, as instructed by the Starter, must walk around at least twenty-five yards back from the start.

5.4 To avoid the Starter waiting unnecessarily, a Rider must tell the Starter if he is dropping in.

5.54 When the Starter wishes the horses to walk forward he will raise his flag to signify this to the riders. Once he has done so, the riders shall walk forward and take up a position ready to start the race. Until that time, no rider is permitted to walk up or take up a position.


Walking up 

6.1 Riders must listen to the Starter’s instructions at all times during the procedure.

6.2 When the Starter wishes the horses to walk forward he will raise his flag to signify this to the Riders.

6.3 Horses in the front rank must walk or jig jog until the start is effected.

6.4 Horses at the rear may trot to catch up but must not overtake those in front or force those in front out of a walk.

6.5 Riders may be instructed to ‘WAIT’ or keep ‘STEADY’ as necessary by the Starter.

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6.6 If the Starter instructs ‘NO’ then the race is not about to be started.

6.7 ‘No Sir’ must only be used in an emergency situation.

6.8 The start will not be delayed if the Starter considers a Rider is holding up proceedings by trying to push in where there is no room.

6.9 A Rider who deliberately faces his horse backwards because he has missed his intended position will be reported to the Stewards.

6.10 If the field line up and commence to move forward before the Starter raises his flag, or where any horse approaches the start at faster than jig jog before the tape is released and the Starter’s flag is dropped, the race will not be started. In this circumstance, the Starter may report to the Stewards any Rider he considers responsible.

7.1 The marker poles are the poles erected on either side of the course in front of the Starting Gate.

7.2 If, for whatever reason, the Starter has been unable to start the race before the runners reach the marker poles, Riders must pull up.

7.3 A Rider will be taken to have contravened Rule (D)44 (general conduct at the start) if his horse goes beyond the marker poles prior to the start being effected, unless the Starter considers that the circumstances were beyond the Rider’s reasonable control.

7.4 For safety reasons the Starter may release the tape where a horse goes beyond the marker poles, however, where the Starter’s flag remains raised this should not be taken as the start being effected.

7.5 The gap between the marker poles and the tape will enable a horse that has become side on to be led out.


Turning back 

8.1 If the Starter has told all Riders to take a turn back, they must go back as far as the marker poles, line up, and a standing start will be effected.

8.2 The Starter may allow a Rider or Riders to take a voluntary turn if it assists in starting the race.

8.3 If the tape becomes dislodged (or for any other reason of sustained delay), all horses must take a turn back as far back as instructed by the Starter.


There was much sniggering about the changes to starting procedures for jumps racing when they were launched last year, writes Rory Delargy, but while the detail involved has caused some to liken them to a set of rules for delinquent schoolchildren, the results have been largely positive. Of course, the cynics would suggest that jump jockeys have much in common with naughty boys and benefit from the new guidelines accordingly.

Those who regularly observe the start of jump races will note that experienced jockeys have a set of tricks which they can deploy in order to maximise their chances of getting a good position, and while some gamesmanship will always be in play, it’s only right and proper that the starter should be able to punish any delaying tactics accordingly. You may remember an occasion where Mattie Batchelor, riding Carruthers was left at the start in a handicap chase at Cheltenham in October 2012.

The formbook records that he was left at the start, which suggests he refused to race, but his fate was in the hands of his rider, who pulled a high-risk stunt of taking his mount back from a difficult position while appealing to the starter to call the field back. That’s not meant as a slur on Batchelor, of course – he was riding a horse whose best form had come when dominating, and he had been caught out as the field lined up from an awkward starting position. In that situation, most jockeys with some nous would have tried to effect a false start in order to get a second bite of the cherry. He was unlucky in that he came up against an official who didn’t want to dance that particular dance on the day.

Such “no-sir” tactics have often been successful, but it’s apparent that they were often used when a jockey had been outmanoeuvred by his colleagues, and not because he was in particular difficulty. The new rules acknowledge that such situations exist, and by doing so, give more power to the starters to call the bluff of riders they believe to be using chicanery to try to gain an advantage. One of the biggest problems with starts in the past has been the lack of organisation, with a frequent scenario involving horses filtering into the start from a holding area which saw some adrift and often facing the wrong way when the leader was sent on its way.

The desire to start as many races as possible from a straight walk-up is a major help in this regard, albeit not practicable in some cases. Having the field moving forward as a unit means that starts are fairer to all runners, with leaders less likely to be gifted soft leads (although this still happens, it’s usually because other riders, rather than the starter let it play out that way), and those in the ruck also less likely to be left flat-footed as the tapes go up.

So far so good, but I fail to understand why the instruction changes in the case of the field needing to be recalled. In such a scenario, the riders are asked to return to the marker poles in front of the starting gate, where a standing start is then effected. Standing starts are well named, because it’s an absolute certainty that at least one horse will be left standing in the aftermath. In March we had the debacle of the Imperial Cup in which Wicklow Brave lost all chance after being left, and he rubbed salt into the wounds of backers by running away with the County Hurdle just a few days later.

At that same Cheltenham Meeting, Monetaire was arguably cost victory in the Festival Plate after losing many lengths from a rearranged start, and several others were hampered in the congestion which followed the eventual tape-rise. Skip forward to the Open Meeting at Prestbury Park, and you will witness that Present View was another to have dwelt badly from a standing position in the fixture’s feature race.

It’s ironic that big handicaps are more likely to produce such instances, as they tend to be the most popular betting races, and yet they are regularly compromised by unfair starts. If walk-up starts are so successful, then why can’t they be applied in the event of a false start? One trite conclusion is that false starts are deemed to be the fault of jockeys, and once they’ve broken the rules, they should have their privileges revoked. In truth, it’s probably considered a matter of alacrity, as a race delayed by a false start is a race delayed too long, and the standing start is seen as the quickest method of despatch. That may be true in theory, but it’s much more important to wait for a start which is broadly fair to all, than to effect a farcical start as quickly as possible.

– Rory Delargy



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