In another great Kentucky Derby helmet cam we get to ride along while Max Player visits the starting gate and gallops. One of the fascinating parts of this video is it shows you just how tight the quarters are in those starting gates and highlights the danger the assistant starters are in as they wait for the race to start. Seriously, they are perched on “platoons” — six inch wide ledges attached between the stalls — alongside a 1200 pound horse that knows it’s about to launch into a race. Imagine standing next to your horse’s head in a two-horse trailer, trying to keep them calm while they gear up to run. In fact, according to a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2000, 35% of all injuries to jockeys took place as horses enter, stand in, or leave the starting gate. Not to mention that horses get hurt, too. I used to own a mare who had a big bump on her head from a starting gate injury.
The starters play an integral part to making sure the race goes off as planned. They need to make sure all the horses are loaded, calm and focused on the race to come.
“You get the rider off [the horse] first, and then second you get the horse out of there. The third thing is you get those riders beside him out of there,” Jordan said. “All the riders are first. That’s our first main objective, so no human gets hurt. Then we get all the horses out of there so no horses get hurt. Then my assistant starters are the last ones to leave.”Scott JOrdan, Churchill Down’s starter
“I’m looking at, is the horse comfortable, is the horse standing properly, is he ready. … So when the gates do open, those first two steps are going to go without an issue,” he said. “…So I want to make sure all four feet are standing squarely, that he’s looking straight down the racetrack. And then while you’re doing that, you also need to make sure that that jock has his feet in the irons, that he has hold of his reins, his goggles are down, and he knows that we’re getting ready to go.”CALEB HAYES, HEAD STARTER AT TURFWAY PARK, PREVIOUSLY ASSISTANT STARTER AT CHURCHILL DOWNS
To really get a sense of what it’s like to be a starter, watch this video from NBC Sports that takes you into the starting gate with Nyquist waiting to break from the starting gate for his Derby run.
One of the big unanswered questions for the 2020 Derby is the new starting gate, which was only recently shipped from Australia and installed. In Australia, starters don’t stay in the stalls with the horses, so there is even LESS room for them than in traditional starting gates. Let’s just hope that horses and humans break safely and well.