The Horse’s Mouth


Oz Sports History



Perhaps it is relate to the Australian passion for racing, because it was not only in totalizator advances that local inventors were prominents, as our report from The Argus, 24 October, 1894 reveals:
On Saturday the stewards of the VATC made a distinct step forward by introducing Messrs Johnstone and Gleeson's patent starting-machine, which has been working  satisfactorily for some months past at the Moonee Valley and Maribyrnong racecourses.    The experiment was completely successful in the opinion of the experts who witnessed the manner in which two large fields, one consisting of two-year-olds and the other of  horses of mixed ages, were despatched on the  races in which they were engaged. Mr George   Watson, the starter of the VATC, who  touched the electric button which released the screen, also stated that the starting by the use of the machine was very satisfactory.
The machine, which was invented by Mr J. L. Johnstone, a practical electrician employed for many years in a large electric lighting company in Melbourne, consists of a screen or barrier of eight light ropes stretched parallel to each other at intervals of two or three inches. These ropes are attached to strong bands of india-rubber, fitted with pulley attachments that run on a wire rope, and the strain of the whole screen is borne by strong posts sunk into the ground on each side of the course. The distance spanned on Saturday was 132ft.
When the horses have all reached the starting point the screen is lowered so that the top of it is about on a level with the horses' heads, and the starter, watching his opportunity, touches the button as soon as he has got his field on even terms. The screen flies up to the top of the wire rope with the velocity of a shot from a catapult, which in principle it is, and the horses spring away from the mark with a clear path. In the Nursery Handicap which was the race to supply an opportunity of testing the machine, 20 two year-olds faced the screen and the only horse which gave the slightest difficulty being Messrs Dailey and Orr's chestnut colt Onward. With a little coaxing, however, and the assistance of a bystander to lead him, was brought up to the screen.
Mr Watson touched the button and shouted the word "Go", and before the monosyllable was well out of  his mouth, the screen had shot up high in the air with a snapping soun and the horses were all at full speed. So even was ths start that it was hard to see whether any horse had the best of it.
The trial was repeated in the last race in the program - the Windsor Handicap - and resulted in an almost equally satisfactory manner.  This second trial was witnessed by Messrs J. Whittingham, F. Madden, S. Miller and M. O'Shanassy, members of the committee of the V.R.C., who are proposing to introduce the innovation at Flemington in the forthcoming meeting.  All four gentlemen expressed themselves much pleased with the speedy and efficient manner in which the starting was carried out under the new system.
The inventor put the machine to some severe tests in the presence of the visitors, and finally showed an experiment to disprove the theory that if a horse happened to get his head caught in the screen. The result would be disastrous. It was shown that no danger could occur, as the screen is so finely adjusted that it will only lift 10lb. apart from its own weight, an one of the committee who held the ropes with one hand easily stopped the upward flight of the machine when the button was touched.
The advantages of the screen were strikingly demonstrated by contrast to the start of the Caulfield Cup which was carried out in the old-fashioned way, and the spectators were irritated by watching Mr. Watson for fully 15 minutes endeavouring fruitlessly to get his field off on level terms. At last, when the general patience was almost exhausted and half the horses were in a white lather from fretting, he succeed in despatching them.  If the screen is permanently introduce, as patrons of racing fervently hope, the experienced starter will still be necessary to select the right moment at which to send the horses off - if the working of the machine were entrusted to a person unversed in the art of starting races, disappointments would, of course, have to be expected.
They're Off!
Just Why Was D.O.D. number 38?
A couple of reports on the incident mentioned that Farmer Smith's ticket was stamped 28, confirmed by the Australian Sketcher's illustration a week or so later.
Why is the ticket stamped 38?
An excellent question, as D.O.D. was bottom weight of the 18 runners.
It is known that the totalizator (the first to be legally used in Australia) only handled ten runners, hence the need for multiple machines when there were more than ten starters.
The tote at Morphettville at that stage used four machines with the totals combined into a single pool, but for some reason, different ticket numbers were used for each machine:
"any person who wishes to back, say No. 6 horse, can go to any machine, only that at No. 2 machine, his ticket would be embossed 16 instead of 6 ; at No. 3 machine 26, and No. 4 machine 36 ; these numbers being counted as though they were all No. 6"
(South Australian Chronicle, 27 December, 1879)
... but it is still not clear why D.O.D. was 38, rather than just 18 and available on the second machine.
The Australian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil's tribute to D.O.D.'s win in the first Goodwood Handicap and what purports to be a facsimile of W. H. Smith's winning £836 totalizator ticket (published June 4,1881.
Bottom right is the "lucky ticket holder", the pair in the centre are Simeon Barnard and Smith on the announcement of the winning ticket. Despite the illustration being labelled the "Finish For the Goodwood Handicap", the centre panel is shown as "The Finish of the Adelaide Cup", won comfortably by Barnard’s horse, Totalizator.
Just why different machines issued different numbers is still a mystery - one would assume 18 would have been on the No 2 machine, but it appears Farmer Smith backed D.O.D. on the No. 4 machine!