Assistant Starters Please

January 3, 2020

I was approached at Penn National the other day by a few Jockeys. They asked me if I could bring attention to the bad problem they’re having at Penn National with the Starting Gate. Seems management can’t or won’t hire Assistant Starters. Management has already cut the field size down to 10 horses to try and help alleviate the problem.  It’s not working and jockeys have put Management on notice. Not only are the Jockeys unhappy, so are the Owners and Trainers. 

Here is the problem:

Safety is at serious risk when you are short handed in the gate. The gate load is a lot longer and the horses are only going to stand for so long before they begin to get anxious. When they get anxious in the gate there needs to be an Assistant Starter to help. You need to realize just how little room is in the gate for horse and rider. I have worked on the starting gate and believe me it’s no picnic!  I’ve been watching the races there and there are a lot of horses getting away bad.

One of the main reasons for that is the jockeys can’t keep their horses head straight without help. Or if they want to rear up they need help to get them down and head straight.  If you have a horse who wants to flip in the gate you need an assistant starter tailing the horse. Tailing is when you pick up the tail at its base and hold it up over their back. Generally that will keep them from going over. 

Here’s where the problem lies for Management. They don’t want to pay enough money or give benefits to new gate crew members. If people are going to work at a very dangerous job, they need benefits and a decent pay. There are places at the track money can be saved but it’s not at the starting gate! 

I can see why the horsemen and the jockeys are in a rage. It’s hard enough to win a race when everything goes well.   Now they have only three days a week to race, the field size capped at 10 and they’re fighting the weather and track conditions. The last thing they want is a bad experience at the starting gate. It’s not fair to the jockeys or the horses.

Remember the public is betting hard earned money.  It’s Management’s obligation to get the field off safe and on time. I realize it’s winter and the weather can get pretty cold and nasty. There are probably not a lot of people even wanting to work on the gate. So I’ll give Management a bit of a break. If they would pay fair wages and offer some benefits they could perhaps hire a decent gate crew and not shorten the fields. 

I’m the last person to want to take the Management at Penn National to task. I run my horses there. My horses have not gotten off bad so this is not sour grapes. This is a situation that needs to be corrected immediately . Before more jockeys and horses get hurt or even worse. I’m hoping management rethinks the situation and errs on the side of caution. There is a saying at the race track “Bad Beginning, Worse Ending”.  Let’s start the New Year off coming out of the gate running! 

These are my words and my words only.

See you at the Races. 

Contributing Authors

JJ Graci

RIP JJ was born in Philadelphia, Pa.  and attended Villanova University. He has vast experience in horse racing and broadcasting. JJ has been a fixture...

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