On an embarassing afternoon for South African racing, start related incidents bedevilled the Vaal meeting on Thursday with phantoms releasing starting gates and even pressing the false start siren.

The trouble started in the fourth race when the front gates of the starting stalls opened for no apparent reason, resulting in Seven Sovereigns bolting the course and being scratched by a veterinary surgeon. The horses Singaswewin and The Great Duchess were restrained by their jockeys and passed fit to race after examination by a veterinary surgeon. This naturally caused a delay to the start of the race.

The phantom starter was back in action for the sixth race. Again the starting stalls opened like magic and the 2 to 1 fancy Vulcan was scratched after bolting. Tandava, Angelic Appeal and Rain Shadow were restrained and passed fit to race by a veterinary surgeon. This once again caused a delay.

According to the official Stipes Report, following the starting stalls opening prematurely for the second time, the Stipendiary Board investigated and it was established that this was a different bank of stalls to the ones which were used in Race 4 – where the gates also opened prematurely.  Therefore it was deduced that the problem was with the cabling and/or the release trigger and not the starting stalls themselves.

It was decided that the remaining races would be started by means of a manual start.  The Operator has undertaken to make the necessary corrective measures to the starting stall equipment before the next Vaal racemeeting.

But it doesn’t end there.

Shortly after the runners jumped for the ninth race, the false start siren went off. It was apparently not activated by any human intervention. With the exception of Gavin Lerena (Queen Anne – 22 to 10) and Craig Zackey (All Done) all of the riders pulled up their mounts. These two horses were examined and scratched. The rest were passed fit to race.

As all of the jockeys reacted to the false siren, the Stipes – ‘in the interest of racing’ – decided this false siren was a false start, despite the fact that the starter had not activated the siren and it had gone off ‘accidentally’.

The aforementioned information has been gleaned from the Stipes Report.

Besides the inconvenience and cost to all stakeholders, the late withdrawal of fancied runners is bad news for punters and for tote turnover. Horses and riders are exposed to injury. Delays in races impact on international schedules.

But mostly, negative perceptions of incompetence and a lack of care on the part of those that run the game are simply reinforced. And where are the official apologies to the customer?