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