Readers of this blog know my position on the Fair Start Rule; the lack of it is unfair and a deterrent to growing the business of harness racing. After all, how much fun is it if your horse is closer to the paddock than the starting line when the race goes off and you get to throw your ticket away?
That being said, there is the opposing view, and one reader of Hoof Beats submitted their objection to the Fair Start Rule in the November edition of Hoof Beats. For one thing, the person feels the Fair Start Rule is arbitrary. In Canada, the rule states a horse needs to be 200 ft or further back at the start to be considered a scratched due to the Fair Start Rule and he is right; if the horse is 190 ft back, he is considered to have had a fair start but 201 ft he is considered not to have a fair start? Why isn't 150 ft considered not having a fair start?
The writer further argues what if a gambler left a favorite out of the trifecta and that is the horse ruled not to have a fair start? As he put it, he may be looking at a $1,000 payoff but now may receive only a $400 payoff due the refunding of money; is that fair? According to this writer, the only fair way is not to have a fair start; once the gate moves a horse be considered a starter for better or worse.
The writer has some valid points, the mark of what constitutes a fair start is totally judgemental. And while I feel a gambler would be saved by a fair start far more often than being burnt by it, the fact is payoffs are likely to be smaller as a result of a Fair Start scratch. However, there is one point the writer can't explain away and there in my opinion lies the flaw of his argument. Wagering is still continuing. If we closed the betting windows before the starting gate moved, I would have no problem with there being no fair start rule; the race is underway the moment the starting gate moves.
But we don't stop wagering when the starting gate moves, we keep accepting wagers and for those who position themselves at the right point by wagering machines, they can cancel their tickets. Those at the track who are sitting at their seats are screwed. If you wager at an ADW, some ADWs already close their wagering so you have no opportunity to cancel your ticket while others are still able to do so. As a gambler,we would never condone wagering after the race got underway so how could we accept it in this situation?
Racing needs to decide when the race begins and shut wagering accordingly. This is one situation where you shouldn't be able to have your cake and eat it too. If a race begins when the field reaches the starting pole, then a fair start pole is needed, as arbitrary as the distance may be. If a race begins when the starting gate moves, then shut wagering down at that point. You can't have it both ways.
Of course, there is another option. We could restore the old recall rule and try to start the field again