There was consternation at Kenilworth when the axle of the starting stalls broke shortly after the off of race three.

But the real problems started when it was realised that the spare set could only accommodate eight horses. After much discussion between certain trainers and the stipes, all the trainers were summoned to a meeting in the boardroom.

The trainers were unanimous that the meeting should continue, no matter that some horses might not be able to run. Most were in favour of starting the remaining races by flag. But, according to chief stipendiary steward Ernie Rodrigues, the rules stipulate that the horses have to be started from pens with the front gates open in flag starts.

The trainers were unanimous about this too. It was ridiculous, they said, although some used a rather less printable description! Horses taught all their racing lives to jump when they are confronted with an open gate would never stand still waiting for the fall of a flag.

Race four was delayed for over 20 minutes while all this was going on – two scratchings had already reduced it to the now-necessary eight – and then it was back to the boardroom where it was agreed that the remaining races would be reduced to the required number by elimination.

“What a balls-up,” exclaimed one trainer but most took it in a surprisingly good part, as did the small crowd many of whom seemed mystified by all the goings on.

But perhaps it is time to review the rule governing flag starts. In many other countries the pens are pushed out of the way and the horses line up as well as the jockeys (and the starter) can manage.

However Rodrigues is not in favour and said: “You could end up with one horse facing the wrong way – and that horse could be the favourite.”

“The normal method in this country is to load the horses with the front gates open and shut the back gates behind them. Then they are all facing the right way. But we couldn’t do that because we couldn’t move the pens from one start to another as a result of the broken axle.”



By Michael Clower