Judge had another brainstorm which may bring him a new kind of fame in his 80s.
Watching the horses break again and again from the starting gate (he has seen
more than 100,000 races), the Judge was impressed by the number that bore out
or in with their very first stride, often knocking the next horse out of
contention. He recalled that a few tracks had once tried starting gates with
partitions extending forward for a few feet. These kept the horses straight,
all right, but they often caused injuries; a horse would lurch into the
partition, bruise and burn its shoulder and afterward refuse to run at all.
Suppose, the Judge began to wonder, that the partitions could be restored but
all the jolt and jar eliminated?
The result is a
new kind of gate, patented by the Judge, with extended partitions made of a
series of foam-rubber cylinders that turn freely on ball bearings. A horse that
bounces into a partition feels no shock at all; the cylinders give and roll and
send him harmlessly on his way. The gate now has been used at Caliente for more
than 30,000 horses, and Shorty Turnbull, the official starter, swears by it.
"It's that first step out of the gate that gets a horse in trouble,"
Turnbull says. "If you can keep him going straight until he's in stride,
then he's all right."
Racing is slow
to change its habits, and thus far only two other tracks have adopted the
Schilling gate. But last spring no less a horseman than Fred Hooper, who has
owned champions like Olympia and Admiral's Voyage, visited Caliente and got
enthusiastic about it, so perhaps the Judge's day is coming. He has had plenty
of other firsts in his long years of racing; it would be a fitting climax now
to have one that brings him some royalties.