Saturday March 13, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Horse Racing Starting Gate

On this Day:

In 1894, J L Johnstone of England invented the horse racing starting gate. Or did he?  The web is full of one-line references to this oft-quoted claim without any substantiating references.  Wikipedia says otherwise. Alexander Gray in Australia is credited with winning the horse gate starting race by a nose.

Throughout the history of horse racing, there have been proposals as to how better to start a race. A commonly used starting system for horse races was devised in the mid nineteenth century by Admiral Rous, a steward of the Jockey Club and public handicapper. A starter, standing alongside the jockeys and horses, dropped his flag to signal the start. An assistant some 100 yards down the course raised a second flag to indicate false starts.

An official starter might be well paid, but his duties were very demanding. Early in the twentieth century, he was supported by perhaps a single assistant who primed the spring-barrier, as well as the clerk of the course. In the present day there are many attendants to steady runners from super-structured barrier stalls.

The first horse racing starting barriers were simple ropes or occasionally wooden barriers behind which the horses stood. The first automated design was pioneered in Australia and was first used at an official race meeting in 1894. Alexander Gray had concluded that the flapping of a starter’s flag distracted the horses. An impetus for his invention was a £5 fine received by his son, Reuben, a jockey, for allowing his mount to step over the white chalk line that marked the start. 

His machine was first tried out at Canterbury Park Racecourse in New South Wales in February 1894. Gray’s prototype consisted of a single strand of wire at about the height of the horse’s head that was attached to a spring at either end. When the device was activated the barrier sprang up and away from the horses. Gray’s single-strand barrier was among those first used. Versions of barriers designed by Alexander and Reuben Gray were installed at race tracks in Australia and overseas between 1894 and about 1932. By the 1920s the single strand barrier had evolved into a spring-powered five-strand device designed by Johnstone and Gleeson, but based on Gray’s prototype, that resembled a strongman’s chest expander. Barriers assured fair starts to races. Fair race starts encouraged owners to enter horses in races and punters to bet, and they contributed to changing horse racing from a social sporting event into a billion dollar industry.

The inventor of the electric starting gate for horse racing is Clay Puett, who was a rider and starter at various tracks in the American West. Puett’s device replaced other starting methods which often failed to produce a fair start, with extra judges employed to catch horses who got a jump on the rest of the field.

Puett’s gate was first used here in Vancouver, BC, Canada at Exhibition Park in 1939, though the management of Bay Meadows Racetrack in San Mateo, California claims that their track was the first to use Puett’s gate. By the end of 1940, virtually all major race tracks in the United States used Puett gates. Clay Puett began another company, True Center Gate, in 1958 based in Phoenix, Arizona. True Center and Puett’s original company (first known as Puett Electric Gate company, now as United) currently account for most starting gate installations in North America. True Center also has gates in South America, the Caribbean and Saudi Arabia. Steriline Racing has supplied racetrack equipment to race clubs, trainers and horse owners in over 65 countries for more than 60 years. These prominent racing clubs use Steriline horse race starting gates: Churchill Downs, Royal Ascot, Meydan, the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Flemington and many others (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

At the race track reunion, one veteran horse race trainer was heard saying that he remembered every horse’s pace but not their manes.

Second, a Song:

Daniel Grayling Fogelberg (August 13, 1951 – December 16, 2007) was an American musician, songwriter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. He is known for his 1980s songs, including “Longer” (1979), “Same Old Lang Syne” (1980), and “Leader of the Band”.

Dan Fogelberg was born in Peoria, Illinois. He was the youngest of three sons born to Margaret (née Irvine), a classically trained pianist, and Lawrence Peter Fogelberg, a high school band director at Peoria’s Woodruff High School and Pekin Community High School. Dan’s mother was a Scottish immigrant, and his father was of Swedish descent. His father would later be the inspiration for the song “Leader of the Band”. Dan often related his memory of his father allowing him to “conduct” the school band when he was only four years old. At the time, Fogelberg senior was band director at Bradley University in Peoria.

Using a Mel Bay course book, Dan taught himself to play a Hawaiian slide guitar that his grandfather had given him. He also learned to play the piano. At age 14, he joined a band, The Clan, which covered The Beatles. His second band was another cover band, The Coachmen, who, in 1967, released two singles written by Fogelberg. They were cut at Golden Voice Recording studio in South Pekin, Illinois, and released on Ledger Record’s label: “Maybe Time Will Let Me Forget” and “Don’t Want to Lose Her”.

After graduating from Woodruff High School in 1969, Fogelberg studied theater arts and painting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign while playing local venues with a folk-rock band, The Ship. He began performing as a solo acoustic player in area cafes. One of these included the Red Herring, which is where he made his first solo recordings as part of a folk festival in 1971. He was discovered by Irving Azoff, who started his music management career promoting another Champaign-Urbana act, REO Speedwagon. Azoff sent him to Nashville, Tennessee, to hone his skills. There he became a session musician and recorded his first album with producer Norbert Putnam. In 1972, Fogelberg released his debut album Home Free to lukewarm response, although it eventually reached platinum status.

He performed as an opening act for Van Morrison in the early 1970s.

Fogelberg’s second effort was more successful – the 1974 Joe Walsh-produced album Souvenirs. The song “Part of the Plan” became Fogelberg’s first hit. Fogelberg also received contributions from the Eagles throughout the album. He had toured with the group during this time. After Souvenirs, he released a string of gold and platinum albums, including Captured Angel, recorded at Golden Voice Recording Studio, South Pekin IL (1975) and Nether Lands (1977).

His 1978 Twin Sons of Different Mothers was the first of two collaborations with jazz flautist Tim Weisberg, which found commercial success with songs such as “The Power of Gold”. Power of Gold peaked at number 59 on the UK Singles Chart – his sole entry on that chart. The album reached number 42 on the UK Albums Chart, likewise his only entry there.

Phoenix, from 1979, reached the top 10, with “Longer” becoming a #2 pop hit in 1980. This LP eventually sold two million copies. It was followed by a Top 20 hit “Heart Hotels”.

In 1980, Fogelberg appeared on the soundtrack to the film Urban Cowboy with his song “Times Like These” and first performed on a live television program.

The Innocent Age, released in October 1981, was Fogelberg’s critical and commercial peak. The double album included four of his biggest hits: “Same Old Lang Syne”, “Hard to Say”, “Leader of the Band”, and “Run for the Roses”. He drew inspiration for The Innocent Age from Thomas Wolfe’s novel Of Time and the River. A 1982 greatest hits album contained two new songs, both of which were released as singles: “Missing You” and “Make Love Stay.” In 1984, he released the album Windows and Walls, containing the singles “The Language of Love” and “Believe in Me.”

According to MTV, “Fogelberg couldn’t capitalize fully on his popularity, due to stage-fright that caused him to cancel live appearances, including a Dodgers Stadium gig with Elton John”. This specious claim was later refuted by Dan himself, citing recurrent streptococcal tonsillitis as the cause of his cancellations, and a dramatic improvement in his health after a tonsillectomy.

Fogelberg released High Country Snows in 1985. Recorded in Nashville, it showcased his and some of the industry’s best talent in bluegrass. Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Doc Watson, Jerry Douglas, David Grisman, Chris Hillman, and Herb Pedersen contributed to the record. In a world he defined as “life in the fast lane”, Fogelberg described the music as “life in the off-ramp”. In late 1985, he switched gears and took to the road with a group of musician friends, including Joe Vitale, Paul Harris, Tino Gonzales, Jeff Grossberg and Rick Rosas, playing blues in small clubs throughout Colorado as Frankie and the Aliens, covering songs by Cream and Muddy Waters, among others. 1987 heralded a return to rock with Exiles, an album that contained “What You’re Doing”, a throwback to the old Stax Records sound made famous in Memphis during the 1960s. The Wild Places, an album whose theme was the preservation of nature, was released in 1990 followed by a tour. His live Greetings From The West album, and full-length concert film (with interview segments) of the same name, was released in 1991.

River of Souls, released in 1993, was Fogelberg’s last studio album for Sony Records. In 1997, the box set Portrait encompassed his career with four discs, each highlighting a different facet of his music: “Ballads”, “Rock and Roll”, “Tales and Travels”, and “Hits”. In 1999, he released a Christmas album, The First Christmas Morning, and in 2003, Full Circle showcased a return to the folk-influenced 1970s soft rock style of music.

In May 2017, a live album of Fogelberg’s performance at Carnegie Hall, championed by his family and longtime friend Irv Azoff, sourced from a 1979 tape made by his touring sound company, was released. It peaked at No. 71 on the Billboard album chart on June 10, 2017, becoming the first of Fogelberg’s live albums to chart on the Billboard Top 200 chart.

“Run for the Roses” is a song written and recorded by singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg in 1980. Released as a single from the album The Innocent Age the following year, it peaked at number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song has since been used as an unofficial theme for the Kentucky Derby. The chorus mentions “the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance”, at once describing the experience of horse racing and life itself.

The song was commissioned by ABC for its telecast of the 106th running of the Derby in 1980, and premiered on the network’s Derby preview special the night before. Fogelberg stated that it was written in two days (per Wikipedia).

Here is Dan Fogelberg performing “Run for the Roses”. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Horse racing is animated roulette.” – Roger Kahn

Have a great day!

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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