Sunday, February 27, 2011

Safety prime concern at Mahalaxmi

"Horses' and jockeys' safety paramount": Zavaray Poonawalla

Prakash Gosavi

GUESS who will make its debut at Mahalaxmi on Sunday?

No, we are not referring to the horses or their owners, but the starting gates, so important from the horses' comfort and safety point of view.

The Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) has taken a serious view of a tragic incident in Pune last August when racehorse Running Bull's leg got entangled into the starting gates so badly that it had to be severed to extricate the horse had to be finally put to sleep.

It is believed RWITC has spent Rs one crore plus for new starting gates procured from an Australian firm.

After the Pune incident, the RWITC formed a 'Safety Committee' headed by former chairman Zavaray S Poonawalla to address the issue. "We all love this sport, and the horse and jockey are the real heroes. Their safety is paramount, and we must offer them only the best racing facilities. The Running Bull episode should never have happened in the first place," Poonawalla told MiD DAY.

"I had very knowledgeable and hard-working members on my committee - trainer Pesi Shroff, Dara Mehta, owner of Running Bull, besides the chief stipe Pradumna Singh, deputy secretary NHS Mani and Frenchman Cheminant. We settled for an Australian company which manufactures the best and safest starting gates," he added.

According to Poonawalla, the club was reluctant to opt for the Australia-made gates because of the cost factor (Rs one crore plus). "That's when I told them I didn't mind putting up 50 per cent of the cost from my own pocket and requested the committee members to put up five per cent each, so that the club is not burdened financially. But they told me I didn't have to do that and sanctioned the purchase."

Did You Know?

More than 70 years ago, racehorses were made to stand between barriers, sometimes wooden, oftentimes stretchable rubber tapes, which were released after the starter flagged them off. However, it was one hell of a job getting all the horses to face in the same direction (front) so that a fair start could be ensured.

All that ended in 1939 when Clay Puett, an American who officiated as starter, designed a mechanical starting gate with separate stalls in which horses could be aligned, and which could be opened at the same instant with the flick of an electric switch. All the modern starting gates, in essence, still share that basic design, though evolving technological advances have added many new safety features over the time.

What's new?

Five major features distinguish the new starting gates that will be put to use on Sunday at Mahalaxmi from the previous one:
  • It uses compressed air to flick open the latches pneumatically, while the earlier gates were operated electro-mechanically.
  • The new design is funnel-shaped in the rear, so that horses' hind quarters, which are very sensitive, mostly stay untouched.
  • The padding on the sides is bigger, better and softer.
  • Being much heavier, the new starting gates ensure that if a horse plays up inside a stall, the impact does not pass as violently to the adjoining stalls.
  • A special safety mechanism is provided that can quickly and effortlessly open a latch in case a horse acts fractious inside.
(c) MiD DAY

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