Philadelphia Park Starter Tenders Resignation

Philadelphia Park has accepted the resignation of its longtime starter, Russell Downes, in the wake of another starting gate miscue that occurred Oct. 30 at the Bensalem Township, Pa., racetrack.

Downes, 65, recently was suspended one week by management after he left the filly Private Gift standing behind the gate while the rest of the field was sent on its way at the start of the $100,000 Pennsylvania Oaks Sept. 5. The track had to refund $128,973 in wagers on the filly.

In the eighth race Oct. 30, a one-mile, $24,000 allowance/optional claiming event, four of the seven horses in the field were left standing in the gate when the latch was sprung. After three horses completed the race, stewards declared it a "no contest" and all wagers were refunded to bettors.

"We spent a lot of time going over the gate and its electrical and mechanical systems today," Hal Handel, chief executive officer of Greenwood Racing, said Oct. 31. "We don't have a clear explanation of what happened. We do know that four horses were locked in their stalls and not permitted to start. We talked to the gate manufacturer and to Rusty (Downes), and we accepted Rusty's resignation this morning. We would like to thank him for his many years of service."

Handel said he estimates the track lost about $50,000 on the Oct. 30 races.

John Stodalack, Downes' backup, is Philadelphia Park's starter until the Pennsylvania State Racing Commission approves new starter. Handel said he didn't know who would be hired to fill the position.