03/30/2011 11:55AM

British revise post position assignments

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Change comes slowly to British racing, but the start of the new turf flat season on Wednesday at Catterick brought two long-overdue innovations to the sport.

The first concerns post positions on right-handed tracks. Heretofore, posts were drawn in Britain by means of a Byzantine system little understood outside of the Jockey Club itself. Starting places were determined by looking at the gate from the finish line, then assigning post numbers from left to right when looking from behind the gate. That meant that on right-handed tracks like Ascot, Goodwood, and Sandown, low numbers would be on the outside. The system has now been reversed so that when looking at the gate from behind, numbers will be assigned from right to left, so that low numbers will be along the rail, like in the United States. On left-handed British tracks, low numbers have always been assigned along the rail.

One thing that will not change is that saddlecloth numbers and post position numbers will not necessarily correspond. Saddlecloth numbers in Britain are assigned by arranging horses names in alphabetical order within a single weight grouping. For example, if all horses in a race carry 126 pounds, the saddlecloth number (which is also the betting number) is strictly alphabetical. If three horses carry co-high weight of 126 pounds, they are arranged alphabetically and carry numbers 1, 2, and 3. If two carry 125, they are then arranged alphabetically and carry 4 and 5, etc., etc. After all saddlecloth numbers have been determined, the draw is held.

Another change incorporated in Britain this year eliminates the use of the term “distanced” for finishing margins of more than 30 lengths. From now on, all margins up to 99 lengths will be reported