Harness racing is a dangerous sport. As a driver you never know if your horse is going to fall sending you into a crowd of oncoming horses or if a horse in front of your will fall putting you in the middle of an accident. This is why drivers need to be ever vigilant because it is a question of when, not if, you are going to get into a wreck. You just hope when it happens, it is minor.
The one thing you don''t expect to have to worry about is the starting gate car. Yes, there have been cases where the gate doesn't close, and a few years ago the starting gate at CDP on PEI decided to crash the outside fence instead of causing harm to the horses but basically the car starts the race and gets out of the way.
That is until yesterday, where at Freehold Raceway the starting gate car became part of the action, as if a scene out of NASCAR. For some reason, the car slid and did a 180 right into the field of horses as they were navigating the first turn. Worse yet, the one side of the gate extended as a result of the spin. One horse was able to get away but the rest of the horses were unlucky.
I call it the Freehold Raceway Miracle because as horrible as it was, the worst accident (at least visually) I've seen in 40 years, all the horses were able to walk away on their own and will be okay and none of the drivers suffered from life-threatening injuries. Needless to say all involved, were in a state of shock and the feel horrible for what happened (Rest assured, I would not have shown the video if everyone wasn't going to be okay)..
Of course as typical, the finger pointing started almost immediately. Some blamed it on the freezing rain (it was 37 degrees when it happened), some were wondering why in such horrible conditions they were even racing (despite the fact four races went off without problem and if truly unsafe, the drivers could have voted not to drive). It is easy to play Monday morning quarterback after you know what happens.
Who knows what happened? Hopefully the investigation will determine what went wrong, not so much to assign blame but to learn from what happened so it can be prevented in the future.
For the one thing drivers shouldn't have to worry about is the starting care becoming part of the action.
Talking Kicking: Bill Finley in HRU talks about kicking and how the sport does nothing to reign it in; something I have talked about in the past.