Thursday, August 8, 2013 12:00 AM
FLORENCE, Ky. (August 8, 2013) – Turfway Park has promoted long-time assistant starter Larry McGlasson to the position of starter. The promotion was effective July 10.
McGlasson, 61, replaces Steve Peterman, who was Turfway's starter for seven years before moving to Calder Race Course in Florida.
McGlasson brings 27 years of experience on the starting gate to his new role, but his skill with horses reaches back decades earlier. He started by galloping horses on the family farm, Lakeview Farm in Hebron, Ky. For about 10 years, beginning in the mid-1970s, he trained racehorses, many owned by his father, Galen.
As starter, McGlasson is responsible to supervise the gate crew as they load horses into the starting gate before each race and, once satisfied that all horses are standing straight and facing forward, to spring the magnetic latches on the stalls to start the race. Before every race, he checks a database of comments from starters around the country, looking for reports of troublesome behavior by horses his crew will be handling.
Managing 1,100-pound racehorses in the tight confines of a gate stall requires teamwork, horse sense, and nerve. "I've always enjoyed the adrenaline of working on the gate, and I'll miss that," McGlasson said. "When a horse is fractious and you win—when he gets out safely—that's really satisfying. It's just something you have to like to do.
"You also have to like and trust the people you work with. You never know when one of them will have to get you out of there. A horse might be striking out and throwing his head, and you're loaded with him in that little cage. The guys on the crew have to click together. Safety depends on it."
During his years on the gate, McGlasson has endured kicks, broken ribs, a fractured sternum, and broken fingers. One horse he was handling reared in the gate, flipped, and landed on its back. McGlasson went down with it, landing on the thrashing animal's belly.
"One guy grabbed my collar and another guy grabbed my belt loop, and they pulled me out," McGlasson recalled.
"This is a 'we' process," he continued. "A starter's only as good as the guys working with him. An assistant starter's ability to understand a horse's body language and react to it instantaneously is crucial to safety and a fair start. And the best riders have God's gift of a sixth sense—they can anticipate when a horse is about to do something."
A fair start protects not only the horses, jockeys, and gate crew but also the investment of time and money by the horses’ owners and trainers and the wagering public. With so much riding on the split second the gate opens, the starter also works during training hours to certify that horses are able to stand quietly in the gate while the field is loaded and break cleanly when the doors open. Until a horse earns its "gate card," it is not allowed to race.
McGlasson supervises schooling in the gate at Turfway Tuesday through Saturday from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., about 30 horses per day on average. Although horses of any age may school on any given day, McGlasson especially noted the teamwork required to gate train young horses, who begin their lessons at the track as young as two years old.
"I enjoy working with the babies, teaching them their manners," he said. "You have to reward them when they're good and let them know when they're not. You have to be able to read the difference between fear and attitude. The horse will tell you when he's ready for the next step. I'm very fortunate that the guys schooling horses with me this summer at Turfway had good teachers. I'm also fortunate to have a good relationship with the trainers.
"I like the atmosphere here (during Turfway’s off-season)," he continued. "For babies, it's quieter than a track during a live meet, and we can take the time we need."
When he's not working with racehorses, McGlasson operates his family's business, Northern Kentucky landmark Lakeview Farm, a thriving truck farm now in its fourth generation. His wife, Maggy, is a veterinarian who specializes in dressage horses and owns Lipazzaners. The couple has 19-year-old twins, Michael and Molly.