Salient cues can prompt the rapid interruption of planned actions. It has been proposed that fast, reactive behavioral inhibition involves specific basal ganglia pathways, and we tested this by comparing activity in multiple rat basal ganglia structures during performance of a stop-signal task. Subthalamic nucleus (STN) neurons exhibited low-latency responses to 'Stop' cues, irrespective of whether actions were canceled or not. By contrast, neurons downstream in the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr) only responded to Stop cues in trials with successful cancellation. Recordings and simulations together indicate that this sensorimotor gating arises from the relative timing of two distinct inputs to neurons in the SNr dorsolateral 'core' subregion: cue-related excitation from STN and movement-related inhibition from striatum. Our results support race models of action cancellation, with stopping requiring Stop-cue information to be transmitted from STN to SNr before increased striatal input creates a point of no return.