Windsor false start leaves punters counting the cost

Last night’s six furlong sprint handicap at Windsor was one of those frustrating races in which circumstances changed at the last meeting, giving punters no time to react.

There was a false start to the race with Bella Ophelia bursting out of her gate in the stalls. The rest of the filed followed, and it took the best part of three furlongs, half the race distance, for some of them to pull up. There’s no knowing whether that impacted on how well they ran when the race was restarted, but some people who had backed Fast Finian and Sir Pedro, the horses to have run furthest down the track initially, were annoyed that their horses had effectively raced over at least seven furlongs in a six furlong event.

Of course, they wouldn’t have complained had either of those two won, and there’s no guarantee that they would have done so without the false start. But I can understand their irritation.

The starter ordered Bella Ophelia to be withdrawn from the race as the rules require him to do. Anyone who had backed this horse got their money back as she didn’t come under starter’s orders. That’s absolutely right and proper. But if you had put a wager on any other horse, it stood. Punters were calling for an opportunity to declare their bets void and for them to be refunded.

That’s something totally impractical. It would be a fraught situation in which bookies were refunding some bets, whilst other punters would be placing new bets in the light of the market without the withdrawn horse. Would there be time to form a new market?

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The meeting has a schedule and a false start puts that under pressure because of the extra time taken over the race that needs the recall and restart.

One suggestion put forward last night was for the race not to be called with a false start, but to let the horses go and simply disqualify the horse that broke from the stalls at the end of the race. On the face of it that sounds attractive, but it has its own problems. Horses and jockeys will react to each other’s movement, but a jockey drawn in stall 30 isn’t going to have a clue about a break from stall 2. And what would you do if a horse came out and others followed before every animal had been loaded into the stalls?

The starter’s job is to enable every horse and jockey to leave the stalls at the same time, to promote the best opportunity of an even break. A horse bursting through the stalls denies that opportunity. There isn’t a case for change, and irritating though it can be, this situation will remain one of the perils of betting.

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