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A false start is when a participant in a race moves or starts before the starter has given the signal has been given for the race to begin. In some sports, such as swimming and athletics, false starts can be fairly common as the athletes involved are attempting to make every split second count and get some kind of advantage over their competitors.
Depending on the sport there can be a kind of penalty for a false start – such as a warning or even disqualification – although in horse racing the horses are readied once again and the race run as normal.
Although false starts occur more frequently in athletics they do not really affect the betting unless the competitor is disqualified. Then that selection would be classed as a losing bet.
In horse racing and greyhound racing false starts are less common but can happen from time to time when the horse or dog breaks through the starting gates too early. This usually results in all the animals (and jockeys) being reloaded and the race can then be run. Some more traditional races use a starting tape, which can cause its own problems.
Probably the most famous false start ever happened at the 2010 Grand National at Aintree. A first false start was called when several horses became tangled in the starting tape. Then, a second false start was called when the tape wrapped itself around one of the riders. This time, however, the recall flag failed to unfurl properly and 30 of the 39 riders carried on around the track. The race was later declared void and over £75m in stakes were refunded by the bookmakers.