Official starter at Churchill Downs ready for Kentucky Derby res - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Official starter at Churchill Downs ready for Kentucky Derby responsibility

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The crew running the starting gate have a dangerous job, and they know the risks of climbing into the gate. The crew running the starting gate have a dangerous job, and they know the risks of climbing into the gate.
Getting that perfect start takes work by the crew at the gate. Getting that perfect start takes work by the crew at the gate.
Scott Jordan has been the official starter at Churchill Downs for 13 months. Scott Jordan has been the official starter at Churchill Downs for 13 months.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- As the field of 20 for the Kentucky Derby are loaded into the starting gate, there's a buzz from thousands of spectators and the millions around the world. They watch as racing's top horses and jockey wait to spring in to action. But most people won't ever notice the man who starts the race.

"I'm the guy who stands out front and pushes the button, when everything is good," said Scott Jordan, the official starter for Churchill Downs.

He and his team make sure the horses are loaded into the starting gate and everything gets off without a hitch. This marks his 13th year in the role.

"I tell everyone it's another race day. Everybody knows it's not, but that's the way we have to proceed on with it," said Jordan.

Jordan and his team make it look easy, but getting that perfect start takes work. Preparation begins weeks before. As the sun comes up, the starting team works with the horses during early morning training hours. Young horses must be approved by him before they can start in their first race. 

"They come over. We have to watch them break with another horse, make sure they're not going to break or anything else," said Jordan.

An assistant leads each horse into the four foot stall. As the gates close behind them, they climb up on a narrow ledge. It's just the horse, the jockey, and the assistant.

"They're trapped with steel, and they're in there with a 1,200 pound horse in a four foot hole," said Jordan.

It's a dangerous job, one that assistant starter Caleb Hays doesn't take lightly. 

"You're going to get banged up. That's just part of the job, and that's why it's the tough guys who are going to last here," said Hays.

It's a balancing act and one wrong turn could mean a bad run for all. With the adrenaline pumping ahead of the biggest race of their lives, things can go wrong. It's the assistant's job to keep everyone calm.  

"Just like they say the captain goes down with the ship, that's us. We're the last ones," said Jordan.

Jordan and his team will load the entire field of 20 Derby horses in under two minutes, less than what it takes to run the actual race. A good start can mean the difference between the winner's circle and coming up short. 

"You're not going to win the race at the starting gate, but you can definitely lose the race at the starting gate," said Hays.

As the final horse is loaded in, Jordan gets the sign, and they're off. Another successful start for the team. 

"As soon as the race is over, you let out a big breath. Everything went smooth, and then we can go on." 

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