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Starting barrier

A starting barrier ensures a fair start to races such as horse races or dog races.


Horse racing

The start of a horse race in South Australia in 1952

Throughout the history of horse racing, there have been proposals as to how better to start a race. A commonly used starting system for horse races was devised in the mid nineteenth century by Admiral Rous, a steward of the Jockey Club and public handicapper. A starter, standing alongside the jockeys and horses, dropped his flag to signal the start. An assistant some 100 yards down the course raised a second flag to indicate false starts.[1]

An official starter might be well paid, but his duties were very demanding. Early in the twentieth century, he was supported by perhaps a single assistant who primed the spring-barrier, as well as the clerk of the course. In the present day there are many attendants to steady runners from super-structured barrier stalls.[1]

Modern barrier

Modern Starting gates used in Australia now include Auto start. This innovation allows the starter to concentrate on the actual horses positioning during the "score up".

The modern Starting gates use only a driver for steering the vehicle and a starter in the rear to observe the race and call a false start if required. The start speed, acceleration, score up distance, and gate closing are controlled via a computer system, which takes control of the vehicle and provides a printout at the end of the score up.

The most widely used starting gate in Australia today is the AVA Integrity Mobile barrier http://www.avaintegrity.com

Strand barrier

The horse racing starting barrier was pioneered in Australia and was first used at an official race meeting in 1894.[2] Alexander Gray's single-strand barrier was among those first used. Versions of barriers designed by Alexander and Reuben Gray, were installed at race tracks in Australia and overseas between 1894 and about 1932. Barriers assured fair starts to races. Fair race starts encouraged owners to enter horses in races and punters to bet, and they contributed to changing horse racing from a social sporting event into a billion dollar industry.

Alexander Gray had concluded that the flapping of a starter's flag distracted the horses. An impetus for his invention was a £5 fine received by his son, Reuben, a jockey, for allowing his mount to step over the white chalk line that marked the start. His machine was first tried out at Canterbury Park Racecourse in New South Wales in February 1894. The prototype consisted of a single strand of wire at about the height of the horse’s head that was attached to a spring at either end. When the device was activated the barrier sprang up and away from the horses. By the 1920s the single strand barrier had evolved into a spring-powered five-strand device designed by Johnstone and Gleeson, but based on Gray's prototype, that resembled a strongman’s chest expander.[1]

Barrier stalls

The transportable starting machine was imported from the United States to Australia in 1946.

It wasn't until 1965 that starting stalls were introduced by the Jockey Club to horseracing in the United Kingdom.[3]

Harness racing

One of the reasons that harness racing is less popular than horse racing has been the reservations in gamblers’ minds about the various means of starting trotting races, particularly when bets have been lost before contests were properly under way.[1]

Most harness races start from behind a motorized starting gate. The horses line up behind a hinged gate mounted on a motor vehicle which then takes them to the starting line. At the starting line the wings of the gate are folded up and the vehicle accelerates away from the horses. The other kind of start to race is a standing start, where there are tapes across the track and the horses stand stationary behind the tapes before the start. This enables handicaps to be placed on horses according to class. Some European, Australian and New Zealand races start using tapes.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Peake, Wayne. "Chapter 4: Programming and conducting unregistered proprietary horse racing" (pdf). Unregistered proprietary horse racing in Sydney 1888-1942. Australian Digital Theses Program (University of Western Sydney). pp. 141–184. http://library.uws.edu.au/adt-NUWS/uploads/approved/adt-NUWS20050817.163106/public/06Chapter4.pdf. Retrieved 2006-04-17. 
  2. "National Museum of Australia: Annual Report 2003-2004 Part 5 - Appendices; Appendix 3, Acquisitions - National Historical Collection (page 3 of 3)". National Museum of Australia. 2004. http://www.nma.gov.au/about_us/corporate_documents/annual_report/annual_report_2003_2004_html/part_5_appendices/appendix_3_page_1_of_3/appendix_3_page_3_of_3/. Retrieved 2006-04-17. 
  3. Wood, Greg (April 3, 2006). "End of an era as Jockey Club falls on own sword". The Guardian. http://sport.guardian.co.uk/horseracing/story/0,,1745459,00.html. Retrieved 2006-04-17. 


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