When were starting stalls first introduced in Britain?
The first race to be started from starting stalls in Britain was the Chesterfield Stakes at Newmarket on July 8, 1965. The winner, Track Spare, trained by Ron Mason and ridden by Lester Piggott, subsequently won the Group One Middle Park Stakes, also at Newmarket. Prior to the introduction of starting stalls, Flat races in Britain were started by means of the so-called starting gate, which was introduced in 1897 and made compulsory by the Jockey Club in 1902.
The starting gate was a labour-intensive affair, consisting of suspended cables, or wires, stretched across the racecourse and held in place by a series of springs, which could be released by pulling a lever to start the race. This mechanism improved the consistency and scrupulousness of the starting procedure, but was still far from perfect; the onus was still on the starter to keep the horses in line and, by interpreting the mannerisms of the starter, experienced jockeys could anticipate when the gate would rise and thereby steal a flying start.
By contrast, starting stalls are a much fairer way of starting Flat races, insofar as the front door of each stall is spring-loaded and held in place by an electromagnetic lock. To start the race, the starter simply presses a button, which disconnects the current from the locks and allows all the stalls to open simultaneously. Starting stalls were formally adopted by the Jockey Club in 1966 and, nowadays, are relied upon for starting around 4,000 Flat races annually in Britain.