What is a false start?

Arguably the most famous, or infamous, false start in horse racing history occurred at Aintree on April 3, 1993, during what the late Sir Peter O’Sullevan called ‘the greatest disaster in the history of the Grand National’. In the midst of a demonstration by animal rights’ protesters at the first fence, the majority of the 39-strong field failed to stop after a second false start was called, seven of them completed the course and the race was, unsurprisingly, declared void.

Under less controversial circumstances, false starts are more common in National Hunt racing than Flat racing, where the majority of races commence from starting stalls. To effect the start, the starter, standing atop a platform, or rostrum, raises a flag to indicate that he or she wishes the field to move forward. Further down the course, an official known as an advanced flag operator (AFO) also raises a flag, which should be visible to all jockeys.

Provided the runners line up and move forward at a steady, moderate pace, the starter drops his or flag and simultaneously releases an elasticated tape stretched across the course to start the race. If the starter is in any way dissatifisied with the start, he or she will wave the flag, as will the AFO, to indicate that a false start has been called. Runners must pull up, return to the starting area and try again, from a standing start, again effected by flag and tape, to the satisfaction of the starter.