The starter for the Australian Turf Club, Dale Jeffs plays an important role in making sure races run fairly and smoothly on a daily basis. Here he tells us about life as a starter and his favourite part of the job.
My father, John Jeffs, was the Racecourse Manager at Rosehill Racecourse and I lived and grew up on the racecourse when I was child. I always loved racecourses and racing and quickly decided to make my career in racing.
When I was in my second year as an apprentice greenskeeper, I was given the role of being an assistant starter by surprise. The training began and I’ve never looked back. The starter’s role is primarily to start the races, but it also obviously involves getting the horses into the starting stalls.
One of the most challenging parts is staying calm under pressure when horses are playing up when either being loaded or in the barriers. I have to talk to my barrier attendants and tell them what needs to be done and I also have to talk to the stewards on the walkie talkie so they know what’s happening. I also have to discuss the situation with the vet to see if the horse can still run or if it is scratched and organise everything else that comes with that sort of issue.
Even on non-race days, I am still at the track. On days that we don’t have races, we might have barrier jumpouts where we assist the trainers in educating their horses to load into and stand in the barrier. Other days, there might be barrier trials held, which are very similar to races to give the horses practice before they race or to get fit.
On race days, I arrive about an hour before the first race and liaise with the stewards. Then I go through the starters report that tells me what horse goes into what barrier number and it also has information about the horses. This information can include if the horse needs any special attention or gear to be used to get the horse into the barriers or if it needs a man to stay in the barriers with it. I also have to make changes to the report as some horses may have been scratched or there is a change to the jockey that is riding a horse.
I then have to make sure that the ambulances are in position, that the clerks of the course have arrived, that the barrier attendants are there, that the barriers are set up correctly, and everything else needed to run the races. Another important task my assistant starter and I have before every race is to scan the microchip each horse running in the race has to make sure that the correct horses have been presented to race.
Once the microchips have been checked and everyone is verified as being correct, we then drive out to the barrier. We have a vet and a farrier with us and we speak with the attendants to give them the barrier order and any special instructions in regards to the runners in that race.
Once the horses are loaded, I make sure everyone is standing well and quiet before starting the race. After they cross the finish, we return back to the grandstand and speak with the stewards if required.
The best part, and which is still the fun part for me even after over 30 years, is starting a race and hopefully you see all of the horses come out exactly together in what is called “one line”.
If you decide to work in the racing industry, keep in mind that it is challenging but you’ll have a great time. The hours can be long but the racing industry is fun and is never boring and no two races are ever the same. As a major bonus, most of the people and horses are great to work with.
My advice is to start as young as you can and be fairly fit. Also remember to never ever get complacent around horses as they can be very unpredictable.