Brad Pittock of The Raceway at Western Fair, (located in London, ON) is the Starter who prides himself on fairness and always keeping in mind safety at all times. Whenever the starting car moves into position, Brad like all starters faces the field and is also the eyes for the driver of the starting car, notifying him of any horses nearby if and when the cars has to make any turns.
Brad watches as each horse approaches ensuring everyone is aware of the timing. The starter must also control the tempo using a joystick as an accelerator, (which is connected to the driver's foot accelerator), to increase the starting car's velocity while on his left side there is a switch to open and close the gates.
"I operate the speed of the car around the turn" explains Brad. "It is pretty much like a golf swing, you continue to pick up speed around the turn and ideally when you get to the start, you're flowing away from (the field). You don't want to bring them up to the start and just take off... this way the horses can come out on their best foot and follow through."
Yes there is a driver in the front seat who steers, but it's the Starter who must ensure there is fairness by maintaining a gradual rise in speed so all horses leave the gate together. The Starter keeps an eye out for any broken equipment and is in constant communication with the judges pending any inquiries after the race and if a horse is required to go to the test barn after each race. The Starter must relay all information clearly to the horsemen, so everyone is aware and not caught off guard. Communication is of vital importance as any hiccup not only affects the horses and horsemen, but the betting public as well.
Brad announces through his microphone to the drivers at one minute intervals starting when there is three minutes to post. "I say three minutes, two minutes, one minute and when we get to the middle of the track that is the official call (to post). There is a horn and a light, what I will do is hit the horn and turn on the light and that is called by the rule book the 'official call' and then I will see the horses coming my way." Brad says.
"Generally if there is a scratch in the race, when they're coming up I will give a verbal (announcement) as to what the scratches are." Brad notes, "they're very aware, but if a driver is in every race, he may not know (there is a scratch).
A 'scratch' means a horses has been pulled out of the race after the program has been released. A horse can be scratched for various reasons, primarily the reason is due to the horse being sick or the racetrack Veterinarian doesn't feel the horse is fit enough to race.
"I've had my starter's license for 14 years" says Brad. "I originally started in Hanover and I've also filled in at Flamboro Downs. I've also worked at Woodstock and at Grand River when Grand River first started. I've been here (at Western Fair) for the last eight years and I work at Clinton Raceway as well." By doing so, Brad has a year round job as a starter as Western Fair races from September to May and Clinton Raceway conducts live racing from June through August.
Brad also trains two horses on the side. Brad went to Seneca College for the Harness Horse Industry Operation program that was taught by well known trainer Benjamin Wallace.
"I also worked down in the States for a few years for a buddy who (learned) his trade under Linda Tuscano." Brad explains. "I've also worked for a couple different barns training horses and then had a public stable. More recently, probably the last twelve years I've just had a couple horses myself and do the starting for a living."
Brad's personality suits his career as he's always conscientious about others and their well being. "I want to be able to give everybody an opportunity to make a living with their horses" says Brad and this is his motivation for every race.
Aside from looking out for everyone's interest, Brad took the Starter's role as a means to make a living as well as training horses. Brad taking care of his own needs helps facilitate the needs of others in an honest and moral way.
"You want to make sure the public has a fair and equitable opportunity for their dollar and give them a good chance. Also with my horse background I know how tough it is to make a living owning horses and training horses... it is a strength for me to be conscientious for others to make a living."
Every track Brad works at has a different driver. So being able to work cohesively with as many people possible is a major aspect for Brad to ensure everything from his standpoint runs in a fluid manner. "It's a partnership for sure" says Brad.
Every race needs someone like Brad, someone who cares for everyone!
Brad enjoys taking fans in the starting car for a great experience, a view unlike any other. To see the horses, nostrils flaring in eager anticipation, going into full step as the starting car pulls away is second to none. The only people with a better view are the harness drivers themselves.
At Western Fair, the car pulls away going into the first turn and sitting to Brad's right give you a full view action of the horses battling for position going into the turn and you are able to get a full view on the back end as the horses come out of the first turn.
Even better, with Western Fair being a half mile track, as the starting car sits in the far side away from the grandstand, you're able to witness the thrill of the drivers making moves to the outside as they gear up for the final 1/2 mile coming out of the third turn. This is where key decision making comes into play by the drivers and ultimately having a major factor in outcome.
If you're interested in riding along in the starting car, be sure to check with the Racing Manager at Western Fair, Greg Blanchard. If and when it is possible, Greg would be sure to have you enjoy the experience of a lifetime along with Brad. The ride does get bumpy so be sure to hold on!
By: Roderick Balgobin www.supernovasportsclub.com Twitter: ScSupernova