Flag starts save the day at Lightning Ridge

The Lightning Ridge meeting held on Saturday saw the use of flag starts following issues with the starting barriers. Photo: Racing Photography.

The Lightning Ridge race meeting held on Saturday nearly didn’t go ahead following issues with the barriers in the first race.

According to the Racing NSW steward’s report, the barriers weren’t functioning properly, leading to scratchings and minor injuries.

“Following the running of this race, all riders expressed serious concern with functionality and safety of the barriers,” the report read.

“Stewards, acting under the provisions of AR199 directed that the remaining races be conducted under flag start conditions.”

Racing NSW steward and Chairman for the meeting Sam Woolaston explained why Racing NSW elected not to continue with the use of barrier starts at Lightning Ridge.

“The issue was the functionality, whereby the front gate would open prematurely,” Woolaston said. 

“They were lacking padding, and two horses sustained (minor) injuries, and one jockey injured her ankle and at the end of the day, it came down to safety and functionality.”

Woolaston said the meeting was nearly abandoned, but when taking into consideration the participants and large crowd, he was inclined to still run the meeting, deciding to implement flag starts when acting under the provisions of AR199.

“The (abandoning of the meeting) was a real possibility and the only reason it wasn’t abandoned was because we are in a unique situation at Lightning Ridge,” Woolaston said. “They hadn’t raced there for three years and the distances that participants had to travel to get there were huge.

“The easier option could have been calling it off and telling everyone to go home, but I just thought, considering the people that had travelled those distances, they should have the opportunity to make an earn.

“It was far from ideal but given the unique situation and the fact that there was such a crowd, it was the right thing to do.”

Woolaston admitted it was challenging, as he and many other jockeys had never attempted a flag start, but as the meeting wore on, the starts became easier.

“It was tough, and we had three scratchings in the first race,” Woolaston said.

“We had two English jockeys in James Rogers and Billy Cray, who had ridden under those conditions, and they were instrumental in assisting us with how it worked, but I’m not going to lie but the first one was a learning experience.

“It did get easier. The issue that we had, and we couldn’t lose sight of, was that it was still was a race that involved prizemoney and wagering, and we couldn’t lose sight of the integrity of the meeting, but as the day went on, the day was easier, and it was a good result for mostly everyone.”

Veteran race caller Tim Moses was working at Lightning Ridge on Saturday, and he admitted that he had to go back to the early 1980s to recall the last time he witnessed a flag start in NSW.

“I last saw it happen in person in about 83’ or 84’ at Binnaway one day,” Moses said. 

“They bogged the barriers that day and had the barriers inside the track, and they had a flag start, and that is the last time I’ve seen it and Tony Ralston rode the winner.

“There was also that Group One (at Rosehill) that was a flag start. Plus Vite at 100/1 won (the Missile Stakes in 1984) for Peter Miers.

“Before that, I saw it way out west when I was a kid at different tracks, but that day at Binnaway was the first time I’ve seen it since.”

Moses praised Racing NSW stewards for persisting with the meeting, hinting that the flag starts only added to the atmosphere at what was a bumper Lightning Ridge meeting. 

“There was a crowd of 5000, and it is a back to Lightning Ridge weekend and it’s great they still raced,” Moses said.

“He (Sam Woolaston) is a very likable steward, and he went around and spoke to everyone and offered them the chance to scratch, but no one did, and it was still a good day.”

Readers wanting to check the full result from Lightning Ridge can click here