Aug. 20, following a rash of incidents in the starting gate at Saratoga Race Course, the New York Racing Association announced the retirement of head starter Richard Brosseau, who was replaced by assistant Roy Williamson.
Brosseau, who spent 31 years as a member of the NYRA starting gate crew, served as the head starter at Belmont, Saratoga, and Aqueduct for the past four years.
Williamson joined NYRA as an assistant starter in 1985 and assumed his new responsibilities by starting races on the Aug. 20 card.
In addition, Bob Duncan, who retired as NYRA’s starter in 2004, will expand his consultant role for NYRA. Duncan, who conducts gate schooling at Saratoga’s Oklahoma Training Track from April through October, was at the gate for the Aug. 20 races and will be responsible for a comprehensive review of all starting gate protocols and procedures.
"Roy is going to do a great job," Duncan said. "The only reason I'm here is because NYRA wanted me to back him up."
“We are very pleased to be promoting Roy to his new position,” said Charles Hayward, President and CEO of NYRA. “I am confident that he will work well with Bob Duncan, as we review and update all starting gate procedures. The starting gate is the most important aspect of the race and it requires communication, collaboration and precision. We value Richie Brosseau’s contribution to New York racing over the years, and wish him well in retirement.”
Several incidents at the gate occurred at Saratoga during the current meet, with three refunds being issued to the bettors.
A $459,000 refund was issued Aug. 1, when the Gary Contessa trainee Rumspringa acted up in the gate before the first race. The colt broke sideways and became tangled with the assistant starter, a 20-year veteran. Jockey Ramon Dominguez was unseated but not injured.
A second refund of $640,000 was issued Aug. 6, when jockey John Velazquez was unprepared for the start and fell off Anthony Dutrow trainee Phone Home as the gates opened for the fifth race.
A third refund of $594,995 was issued Aug. 15 after the Rick Violette trainee Phantom Income reared at the break and was declared a non-starter in the Adirondack Stakes (gr. II).
Other incidents at Saratoga included the July 25 scratching of After Dark, who flipped in the gate, the July 29 scratching of My Sister Diane, who reared in the gate and was scratched by the attending veterinarian, and two Aug. 3 incidents - in the fifth race, when Tobruk threw his head as the gate opened and was unprepared for the start, and the same day in the seventh, when Gaelic Storm stumbled two jumps out of the gate and lost jockey John Velazquez.
Velazquez, chairman of the Jockeys’ Guild, has escaped injury thus far at Saratoga after being thrown on five separate occasions, four of them in the gate or shortly after the start.
According to Williamson, the starting crew will go back to "natural" gate schooling methods using basic horsemanship skills. Beginning Aug. 22, the starter will also use a microphone to communicate with his crew.
"That's the way I like it," said Williamson, "it makes for clearer communication. I can see the entire picture and talk to my guys and help everyone - the starters and the jockeys - settle down and relax."