So it was a major development when a Massachusetts-based company, Trakus, developed a high-tech method of recording data in horse races. This winter, Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs became the fifth and sixth North American thoroughbred tracks to adopt the system. The industry is excited about the possibilities.
“I hope this becomes a new handicapping tool and gives people a whole new way to view a race,” said Gulfstream’s president, Tim Ritvo.
Michael Ciacciarelli, Trakus’s chief operating officer, said the methodology was originally intended for use in sports such as hockey and football. But nobody was more interested than Equibase, the company that collects thoroughbred racing’s data, which thought it saw the technology of the future.
A transmitter is inserted into every horse’s saddlecloth. It sends a wireless signal to as many as 30 antennas on towers placed around the track. Those signals allow the system to record a horse’s speed and path throughout a race.
Trakus’s most conspicuous function is to display, on the television screen, each horse’s position as a race is run. Traditionally, a human being has been responsible for posting the numbers of the horses leading a race — numbers that were often maddeningly inaccurate. Trakus eliminated the mistakes. The order of the field is displayed with each horse’s program number in a square — dubbed a “chiclet” — at the bottom of the screen. As horses change position, the chiclets move simultaneously. If a horse is not visible on the screen, a viewer still knows if he’s in 11th place because of the location of the chiclet.
The technology has been sufficiently accurate that Equibase has changed its method of charting races at tracks using the system. Historically, the details of every race have been gathered by a chart-caller who watches the action through binoculars and calls out numbers to a partner. Now Trakus produces the charts, though the data still requires oversight and tweaking by Equibase personnel.
For handicappers, Trakus is a potential source of valuable information. The ground that horses lose by running wide on the turns is a crucial factor. Trakus measures the distance that each horse travels. In a 1 1
8-mile race at Gulfstream Saturday, the front-running winner Teeth of the Dog covered 6004 feet, while-fourth place Went The Day Well traveled 6049 feet with a wide trip. According to Trakus, the loser ran at 37 mph, a superior performance to the winner’s 36.9 mph. Measurements such as these would be useful additions to any handicapper’s arsenal. So, too, would Trakus’s record of each horse’s speed in every segment of a race.