view raw text
Reuben White Is Starting His Eleventh Derby Field Today First Dispatched Starters i In Churchill Classic Year Whirlaway Was Victorious CHURCHILL DOWNS, Louisville, Ky., May 4. — Starter Reuben Wesley White is all set to speed the field in the 77th Kentucky Derby on its way tomorrow. He was prepared to dispatch as many as 20 starters. The regular starting gate accommodates 14 horses and he has a six-stall addition which could be attached. The two sections are joined electrically by a "Jumper" which enables the doors of each division to open simultaneously at the press of a button in Whites hand. It was not always so easy. One year, White had a large field in the Derby and was compelled to use two 12-stall gates, although all the stalls were not occupied. There were no six-stall gates in those days. The "jumper" on the outside gate failed to function during rehearsal, but White was dismayed only temporarily. He quickly rigged the outside gate as a separate entity, carried the electric wire from it to the starters stand in the same manner as that of the regular gate and sent the field away in perfect alignment by pressing a button in each hand. White states modestly that he has been fortunate in starting Derby fields. This years renewal will be the eleventh time that he has dispatched the contestants in the Run for the Roses. All starts have been "good." White started his first race in 1933 at Coney Island, now River Downs, and had been an assistant stater for a long period prior to that. He started his first Derby in 1941 when Whirlaway was the winner. This was the first year that the Derby was started from a V-shaped closed gate. Special Precautions Necessary Special precautions are taken to assure good starts in the Derby because there are extra working hazards that day. Crowds swarm to the starting point and camera men surge inside the protecting ropes to secure points of vantage. All the photographers are not experienced in "shooting" races and White must make certain that they do not stand in positions where their movements might cause a horse to swerve.. There is much more chance of horses rearing up in the starting gate. The nervous thoroughbreds are easily frightened by the crowds. Starting gates are constantly being improved, says White. Padding and protection is added as experience shows the need. The doors of some gates are sprung open by a charge of electricity which releases the restraining bolts. Other gates are held closed by electric magnets and it is the shutting-off of the current that permits them to swing open. The former method is incorporated in the Bahr gate at Churchill Downs, and Johnny Wagner, a mechanic for the company, is on hand to insure smooth operation. Employs Extra Asssitants "You start a race from your eye," stated White. "It is therefore quite important that the electric impulse from the button — — ► in your hand is delivered in equal strength to all doors simultaneously. It is just as important that it be delivered instantly. It requires only a brief moment for a horse in the field to turn his head or do one of many things that make starters grow old before their time." In addition to his regular crew of assistants, White employs extra ground men on Derby Day. These men always are experienced in handling horses and generally are recruited from the crews of other starters not working elsewhere on Derby Day. He has had as many as nine assistants on the ground for a Derby. These aides sometimes present a problem themselves, for a starter has to keep an eye on each of them, in addition to the horses and jockeys, to prevent their being injured. White finds that jockeys cooperate well with his efforts to obtain good starts. They have learned that it is to their advantage to do so. The old tricks of riders trying to "beat the gate" have been pretty well doomed by the closed gate. "They know," grinned White, "that they cant get out of there until I open the gate." Starters Studied Individually A close study of the entire starting field ! is made by the starter and his assistants [before the race, and each man is told the I peculiarities of the horse he may have to I handle. Known slow starters are singled I out and the ground men are briefed how | to treat them. Horses with other disturbing traits are watched closely for the first sign of unruliness. Trainers of the horses are helpful in this respect. They know the idiosyncrasies of their charges and acquaint the starter with the method of handling to which they best respond. Prior to becoming a starter in his own right, "Ruby" White served as chief assistant to starter William Hamilton and worked on the ground for him for each of the many Derbys that Hamilton started. He also served under starter Bill Snyder for many years. He knows the craft from all angles. "A starter cant afford to become excited," stated White. "I cant fret over whether the field is very large or there are notoriusly bad actors in it. Mud wont make any difference. The horses will be there to be started. Hope with me that I get another good one."