What happens if a horse refuses to race?

The phrase ‘under starter’s orders’ is well known in horse racing and describes the phase, just before the ‘off’ of a race, when horses are ready and waiting for imminent action. All that remains is for the racecourse official responsible for starting the race, that is, the starter, to open the starting stalls or release the elasticated tape stretched across the course to get the race underway. At this the stage of proceedings, it is no longer possible for horses to be officially withdrawn and declared non-runners, which has ramifications for bets placed on any horse that, for whatever reason, refuses to race.

If horse is withdrawn before coming under starter’s orders, stakes on that horse will be returned. The raceday stewards also have the power to delare a horse a non-runner if it is riderless at the time of the start or if it prevented from starting by, say, faulty starting starting stalls. However, if a horse refuses to leave the starting stalls, loses all chance because of the late removal of a blindfold, or simply fails to move muscle, it may be officially deemed a runner, such that all bets placed on it are losers.

Such decisions are always controversial and, when they occur, punters must rely on so-called ‘goodwill’ payments from bookmakers to recover their stake money. Although under no obligation to do so, some of the larger bookmaking firms will refund stakes on some, but not all, bets in cash or as free bet credits.