Over the years not many months go by when harness racing does not lose a loyal and long serving enthusiast through retirement. Last Saturday night at Addington was no exception with the retirement of Murray Court, the mobile start driver.
It was in the vicinity of 1965 when Court first started working with the mobile gates and the late Ron Carter. Since then he has been the driver of mobile starts at Timaru, Ashburton, Greymouth, Rangiora, Kaikoura and Addington. There have been many changes over the years with the most notable being the improvement in vehicles, the gates and communication between the starter and driver.
In the days of the Carter-Court combination there were many moments to remember with one night at Addington standing out. Until the gates are past the starting point and timekeeper, the throttle is in the hands of the starter. After that point he then returns it to the driver. However, on this particular night after the start, Court noticed that it was still on full throttle with the gates wide open and he could not alter it. He kept yelling and banging on the roof to Carter who obviously could not hear him.
With the bend coming up and the 1956 Ford Customline heading towards it on full throttle with the gates open, things did not look good. With some quick thinking, the keys were turned off which allowed the vehicle to go into a glide, and when turned on again there was a loud bang which cleared the throttle and closed the gates.
When asked if there were any particular horses who seemed to be faster from the gate than others, Court has no hesitation in naming Lord Module. "I have seen us up to 35 odd m.p.h. and there he was, still up at the gate."
Whilst visiting the Inter-Dominions at Harold Park, Court was given permission to have a couple of rides with the mobile. He was surprised at their style and difference to New Zealand. The main difference being the quickness of the gate to leave the horses. Sometimes only half the field would be up to the gate and away it would go. Court was also given a few anxious moments at the end of their run when the mobile would go down a shute out of the way. Sometimes the gates would only just shut in time before they reached the narrow entrance. Three weeks after his visit, Court was to learn of the mobile going down the shute and the gates not closed and being ripped off.
Being able to help young horses or maidens gain experience by giving them practice has also given Court pleasure. On one trip to Greymouth he travelled 34 miles around the Victoria Park Raceway on a Saturday morning allowing the inexperienced to get used to the gate.
Not so happy memories are windy nights when the 15 yard wide gates are difficult to control, or when a horse in barrier 9 decides to get right up to the gate and push hard against it, or when they are on their way to the start and a horse doing it's preliminary the other way around, does not see them. On one particular night when a head on collision seemed imminent he had to turn his lights on full plus give a blast of the horn before the driver saw them.
All in all, it has been a happy period for Court and whilst he is looking forward to retirement and more time with his small team at Broadfield, he is going to miss Jack Mulcay calling out..."RIGHT".
Credit: HRWeekly 25Jul90
When Ron Carter steps down off his starter's pedestal for the last time at the end of the season, he could very well be setting off on another facet of his racing career...as a trainer and an owner. "I don't know whether I'd get a trainer's licence...they might think I'm too bloody old," is his wry assessment of his chances in that department.
But on a more realistic note, Ron Carter at a mere 67 would have a good few years in front of him as a trainer. Already he has forgotten more of the good horses who have passed through his hands for their initial breaking and education than he remembers. Among those he remembers easily are Arapaho, Orbiter, Noodlum and naturally, this season's 3-year-old filly sensation Armalight. Armalight's young owner-trainer Brent Smith is on record as saying he sent the filly to Ron Carter to be broken because he wanted to do "everything right."
That's the way it has been for many others over the years Ron Carter has been associated with horses. Owners and trainers have sent horses to him to break to give them a decent start to their racing careers. And once they make it onto the track, it has been Ron Carter's duty to make sure they get a decent start in any race in which they might line up. Officially he has been in charge of that department for trotting meetings in Canterbury and Marlborough, on the Coast and in North Otago for the last 22 or 23 years. He gained his open starter's licence in 1957 and he won't renew it after the New Brighton Trotting Club's winter meeting at Addington on July 19.
Ron Carter's association with horses has been a lifelong one. Receiving his formal education in Christchurch he "cleared out from school" when he was 13 because, as he puts it now, "I didn't like it for one thing". His father had for years run a horse-drawn transport business so young Ron drove a team of Clydesdales, contracting all over the Port Hills and around the city. A lot of the business came through carting bricks and pipes from the recently demolished Murphy's brickworks nestled at the base of the hills. In fact, the Carter headquarters were centred on the stables sited next door to the kiln. Ron continued in the business after his father died but finally gave it away when he was granted his full licence. "We were probably the last around here with a team," he recalled. A lot of the work in those later days involved carting pipes and bricks from the adjacent works to the railway.
The young Ron Carter's interest in horses didn't end with the working variety. Even as a lad of 14 he was travelling 'here and there' with the late A J (Bert) Hastings, a well-known starter of the times. "I used to go to time trials and race meetings all over the place, even if it meant I had to save up for the boat fare to get to the North Island," he said. It wasn't the betting or the gambling that appealed. It was just the horses and the chance to be near them. I've never had a bet, not even before I was a starter. Even when I retire from this and am allowed to, I won't be worried about betting. I used most of my early money to go with Mr Hastings everywhere I could."
It was round the early 30s that Ron Carter started getting paid for his interest in racing. With his father he had been getting "about 7/6 a week", as a starter's assistant, about 15/- a day. Later this was raised to 30/- a day "and it stayed that way for years and years". Now, of course, a starter gets much more than that and with more meetings and more trials there's a lot more involved. But because he couldn't exist solely as a starter, Ron Carter broke in horses as well and gave them their early education before they went on to professional trainers. "I've broken in so many, it isn't funny how many I've forgotten. Some have gone on to be good horses and others have gone away almost as soon as they've been broken. But I've just had to be with horses."
Ron Carter remembers well the first time he took to the stand officially, even if he doesn't remember the date. Mr Hastings had been in Wellington at the time and Ron Carter had been granted a temporary licence to start the races at Rangiora. "There must have been about thirty horses in the field, packed in like sardines they were. But they all got away. Like ever job, you have your good days and your bad. That was a good one. I think though, all the drivers were more alert than usual. I suppose they were watching out for the new chap on the stand."
Alertness was one of the keynotes of the job. Even an assistant had to be equally alert and completely aware of what the actual starter was about to do at any particular time. A large part of Ron Carter's scheme to keep on the ball relies on taking advantage of the time early in the day. "I have always reckoned an hour in the morning is worth two at night; besides when you've got feeding out and the like to do before work you've got to be up early and then be alert all day."
A few days before the races, and then again quickly the night before, he reads through the fields just to see what horses are there and what problems, if any, they're likely to present. In years passed, the starter was usually in the secretary's office when the draw for barrier positions was made just to make sure he had everything right.
So far, just about everything has gone right for Ron Carter. He can't recall ever sending a horse away from the wrong mark and he has great difficulty remembering any day that might be called 'disastrous'. There was one day at Ashburton, though, when it took three goes to get a trotter's race away. The first time, when he said "go" the front barrier strand didn't release, even though it had been thoroughly tested before the races (one of the crucial tasks). "We tested it again on the spot and it worked okay. The field lined up again and once more the thing didn't release. We had three shots at it and as a last resort replaced a bracket before it worked perfectly." There have also been instances of the barrier strand catching across the backs of the sulkies of particularly long horses or flicking around horses legs, but generally all goes well.
But something which hasn't always worked that way, Ron Carter said, was the mobile barrier. It was introduced to Addington during Mr Hasting's time. The first, designed by well known Taranaki racing identity Alec Corrigan, was attached to a Land Rover. Another like it was built in Christchurch with all the controls in the cab with the driver. "I didn't approve of that in any way," Ron Carter recalls with just a little vehemence. "I finally got control over the closing of the arms but more importantly it was the accelerator I wanted. That first start from the mobile did a lot of harm. It put a lot of people off it immediately. But now the starter has control of everthing except the steering; and contact with everyone, even the secretary." Ron Carter sees having both mobile and standing starts as difficult for a number of horses. "Some are either very good away from a stand or from a mobile but chopping and changing upsets the majority of them."
If there is a problem with starting these days, Ron Carter puts it down to failing to close the totalisator right on time. "I would like to see the day when the starter closed the tote. That way we would avoid a situation that happens so often now with horses still being walked around some minutes after they should have been racing. There's nothing worse than to have them walking around and around waiting for the tote. If the starter had control there, too, he could start bringing them in with just enough time to get them all lined up and then away at the same time betting stopped." Those last few minutes were vital for both horse and horseman and any dely just made it harder for them. "I know just how they feel. I know exactly what they're going through. Still, they're a pretty good bunch of drivers these days and I'm going to miss them all when I stand down. I get on pretty well with them all. It's pretty easy to pick someone who is not co-operating...and it is vital they all play ball." A quiet talking to the person in question was usually enough to avoid a repetition. And only if a man-to-man talk didn't work was there a need to take things further. But come the end of the season, there will be a new man in the hot seat. Ron Carter tips Jack Mulcay, his assistant for the last six years, as his successor
And in retirement, it'll still be horses taking up most of Ron Carter's time. "They will keep me too busy to think about anything else. They always have." Yes, he and his wife will go to the races and with a 'bit of luck' Ron will be able to race one himself. Most of the luck involves getting a horse good enough to race and win with. "I've always thought that would be a real thrill. But you never know how they're going to turn out, do you?
He's currently working on a 3-year-old Good Chase gelding on his Prebbleton property "I think he will be all right. We will just have to wait and see." And then, with the interview over, Ron Carter's back to putting a filly through her first paces. Like he said, it's a never ending game with him. "There is no way you can ever say you'll be cleaned up and ready by dinner time.
Credit: Graham Ingram writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 17Jun80
MOBILE STARTING BARRIER
FAMOUS FLYING MILE RACES
MOBILE START CONTROVERSY
MOBILE GATE: Introduction
A mobile barrier - the first to be used in the South Island - will be used to start the field of ten entered in the New Zealand Flying Stakes, one of the feature races on the final day of the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club's Cup meeting at Addington on Saturday, November 23.
The apparatus, which is attached to a utility vehicle, arrived in Christchurch on Tuesday. It was brought south by Mr Ross Corrigan, who will drive it at Addington. A similar mobile barrier was used for the first time at Hawera last April and, according to northern reports, it was most satisfactory.
Some weeks before this, a flying start event was run at Addington, but no barrier was used and the start was far from successful. There were several reasons for the failure at Addington, the main one being the lack of instruction given drivers before the event. Another was the fact that the field was sent back only about 72 yards from the starting point and the horses had insufficient chance to get in line before reaching a fast pace.
Nothing will be left to chance for this month's race. There are a number of dufficulties to be overcome, the main one being the difference in the speeds of the horses on the inside and those on the outside at the starting point, which is in the middle of the bend into the straight. When the mobile barrier was used at Hawera, the horses had a straight run to the starting point. The barrier was travelling at about 30 miles an hour by the time it reached the starting point. It then drew away from the field.
It will be impossible for the barrier to travel at this speed at Addington. The track at the mile start is 70ft wide and it is expected that if the inside horse paces at a 2:10 gait the outside horse will have to race at nearly two-minute speed to keep in line. So that the driver of the barrier will know what speed to maintain it is intended to have a trial run with four motor-cars behind the barrier. The motor-cars will have synchronised speedometers and it is hoped to work out a satisfactory speed at which to drive the barrier. Once this is known the trainers and drivers of horses engaged in the race will have several opportunities to try their horses behind the barrier. These trials will probably take place on Tuesday and Thursday before the race but no definite decision had been made when this went to press.
The barrier will not stretch right across the track. The arms are each 23ft long, with a short rubber extension on the end in case it should hit anything. Fully extended the barrier will extend slightly more than 50ft, leaving about 10ft at each end. The club intends starting 10 horses, the maximum allowed at the mile start. It seems probable that the two inside and two outside horses will come up to the starting point without the aid of a barrier.
As well as the driver of the barrier, the vehicle will carry the official starter (Mr R Carter), a stipendiary steward, and one other person to advise the driver when to increase or decrease his speed. Mr A J Corrigan, of Hawera, who made arrangements for the gate to be brought south, or Mr C L Rhodes, of Christchurch, will carry out this latter duty.
The gate will probably remain in Canterbury after the meeting. It is to be used a fortnight later at New Brighton and again at Gore on December 26.
Credit: NZ Trotting Calendar 13Nov57
History has it that there are no holds barred in the chariot races during the time of the Romans, and similar tactics were adopted by two drivers - J D Litten and C C Devine - in the concluding stages of the New Zealand Flying Stakes at Addington last Saturday.
It is also on record that - especially in European countries - many years ago, the phrase "choose your weapons" was quite often used where one party had a difference with another. On Saturday the 'weapons' used were driving whips and the principal actors in this drama showed they knew how to use them.
The trouble started just after reaching the straight, the two drivers concerned slashing at one another. The incident took place in front of a large crowd on the mound as well as many others who came from the member's carpark to witness the race, and was clearly seen from all parts of the course. Litten, driving False Step, came into the straight on the inside of Don Hall, driven by C C Devine. They were several lengths behind the leader, Caduceus, and well clear of La Mignon. The two horses were close together and slightly off the fence before reaching the two furlong post.
It is understood that Devine and Litten slashed at each other outside the furlong post. Inside the furlong Litten turned and hit both Don Hall and Devine. As the horses were brought back to the birdcage Litten was seen 'nursing' the left side of his face and Devine was rubbing his wrists. Litten's left eye was closed when he dismounted from the sulky. A large crowd waited on both sides of the birdcage, and both drivers were greeted with boos and cat-calls as they returned. As a result of this exhibition - which was nothing short of disgraceful - both drivers have been deprived of their driving licences for a period of six months.
Despite severe criticism from some quarters, the start of the race and the race itself proved a success. Many people - especially Mr A J Corrigan - put in a lot of time with the mobile barrier prior to the event and the New Zealand Metropolitan Trotting Club and all those who helped, deserved a much better climax to what was hoped would at least prove one of the highlights of a very successful meeting. Apart from the unexpected whip incident, it did.
Considering that the mile start at Addington is right on a bend the start was an excellent one. Most of the field behaved very well and were moving at top when the mile post was reached, all in a reasonably good line, except for Dresden Lady, Adorian and Wayward Peter, who all gave some trouble at the start. False Step immediately strode into the lead from Don Hall with Caduceus making a brilliant beginning from near the middle of the field, and racing on the outside of Don Hall. At the end of the first quarter, False Step was leading Caduceus and Don Hall with La Mignon and Worthy Chief next ahead of Adorian and Dresden Lady with two lengths back to Black Douglas and Wayward Peter, and six lengths to Ricochet.
At the half mile, Caduceus moved up to have a slight advantage over False Step and a further furlong on he had increased his lead to two lengths over False Step, who was on the outside of Don Hall, these two were followed two lengths away by La Mignon. It became obvious at this stage that these four were the only ones with a chance.
Caduceus continued his brilliant run to turn for home a clear leader and once inside the furlong he ran right away. False Step battled on gamely and Don Hall must be given full marks for a very fine performance under the circumstances. La Mignon was half a length back fourth with the rest beaten off.
Caduceus just failed to break even time but there is little doubt if there had been a horse in the field capable of extending him, he could have done so. The first quarter was run in 28 4-5secs, half mile in 58 4-5secs, six furlongs in 1:29 3-5 and the full journey in 2:00 mins.
Credit: 'Irvington' writing in NZ Trotting Calendar 27Nov57