Courtesy of BEN HUDSON TRACK Magazine Owner/Editor
If you have ever owned or bred a horse that just missed qualifying for a major race by a blink of the eye, you might be interested in what has happened at Ruidoso Downs.
The men who purchased Ruidoso last year have been involved in racing for decades. And more than once, they have owned horses that just missed qualifying for big races such as the All American Futurity.
After the track changed ownership last fall, management began working on a solution to make sure that every horse runs the same distance in a set of time trials.
Jeff True, Ruidoso’s president and general manager, visited with horsemen including Johnny Trotter and Bobby Simmons and racing officials about placement of the starting gate and explored such things as lasers that could help assure that both ends (i.e., from the 1 hole through the 10 hole) of the starting gate would be the same exact distance from the finish line for all trials while still allowing for movement of the gate so the track could be harrowed and watered between each trial.
In some racing jurisdictions the starting gate must remain stationary during a day of trials. That means that the gate may not be moved to renovate the surface between trials and results in the ground inside the starting stall becoming dug out and loose. Raking of the track material back into that hole leaves the starting position compromised.
In other racing jurisdictions, the starting gate is moved after every race so that the area where the gate sets can be groomed when the rest of the straightway is being groomed. However, this also means that from race to race, horses in subsequent trial heats could be running different distances; if only by a couple inches.
And when times for qualifying is measured in one one-thousandths of a second, every inch counts.
Catherine Simmons, an engineer who, with her husband Bobby breeds and races horses, supplied TRACK Magazine with these figures relating to this matter.
“In order to do the calculation, you have to make an assumption of the total time it takes to run the 440 yards. So, I’ll assume 22 seconds for the 440 yards. That equals 0.00139 seconds per inch,” Simmons told TRACK Magazine.
“Therefore, four inches results in a 0.00556 second discrepancy if the gates are not set within 4 inches of each other.
In the first day of trials for last year’s $3,000,000 All American Futurity, the fifth qualifier (Dash For Stone) was timed in :21.875. The first qualifier on the first day for the $200,000 All American Juvenile (Jesse Lane) was timed in :21.885.
“If there were a four-inch offset, then that would be 0.00833 seconds for 6 inches (nearly one one-hundredth of a second).
“I know that we missed qualifying for the Rainbow Derby by 0.001 seconds (that is 1 one-thousandth of a second) last year. So that’s less than an inch of setting the gates.
In the second day of trials for the All American Futurity, the fifth qualifier was (Fly Baby Fly) timed in :21.902. The first qualifier for the All American Juvenile (Day Dynasty) was timed in :21.932.
McReynolds, an Idaho native whose father Ken McReynolds finished second aboard Bunny’s Bar Maid in the 1961 All Ameri- can Futurity and fifth in the 1965 All American aboard Four Forty Queen (both for AQHA Hall of Fame member Spencer Childers), developed a method to normalize the starting gate position for time trials.
McReynolds proposed the placement of two wooden tem- plates in front of the tires of the starting gate. The templates are secured with spikes driven into the track surface and enable Kelly and his staff to guide the gate tires (on the inside rail) and the gate truck tires (on the outside rail) into the same position for every trial heat. The template provides a remarkably simple, failsafe guide for gate placement.
When the gates are moved to harrow and water the track between trials, the tractors and water trucks maneuver past the guides without interfering in their placement in any way and do not affect the ground under the gate
“This template solution was used during all three days of the schooling races just completed and it worked brilliantly. Horsemen and owners were pleased with the result,” True said.
“We can’t control the wind or rain or some other things that happen during the course of a trial day,” True told TRACK Magazine. “But we believe this solution ensures that every horse in a particular day of trials at Ruidoso will be timed at the same distance from gate to wire .
After exploring several options to ensure the most accurate placement of the Ruidoso gate for every trial, veteran Ruidoso starter Kelly McReynolds provided a solution.
“With millions of dollars on the line in purses . . . and the new seven figure bonuses available in both our futurity and derby programs . . . it is incumbent upon us to make the racing conditions as fair as possible.
“At Ruidoso last year, there were 1,046 starts in 111 trials for our Quarter Horse stakes. We expect to have at least that many in 2018 . . . and we want every horse to have an equal shot.
“We eagerly anticipate opening day on May 25th, and look forward to three days of trials for the Ruidoso Futurity and Ruidoso Derby that weekend,” True added.