Mystic Journey is going to be awfully hard to beat this preparation based on her first-up performance at Caulfield on Saturday, but I wouldn’t be rushing in to back her in any futures markets.
Technological advances have been revolutionary in sport in recent years, particularly in the last decade. So why is racing so slow to make the same progress?
It’s not a global syndrome, but it is one which seems to be affecting Australia more than many of the world’s large racing jurisdictions.
Whether we are unwilling or just slow, I have come to realise that the Australian racing industry is behind the times in terms of technology, a view formed by recent international trips and personal experiences.
Australia is stuck in an age of black and white while the rest of the world is moving forward with colour. Perhaps an analogy of Australia using a mainframe computer while the rest of the world is using iPads would also suffice.
There are many examples of where Australia is falling behind, but the focus of this article is on in-running data – times, margins and sectionals.
This data is crucial for punters, the lifeblood of our sport. It allows punters to analyse all the information in front of them to make an informed decision.
Currently, Australia uses a number of different timing systems, all ineffective. Times published by the race clubs can have many errors, and as for sectionals – for the uninitiated, the time a horse takes to cover a certain distance, usually the last 200m, 400m, 600m or 800m of a race – they are all over the place.
Melbourne form analyst Vince Accardi provides sectional times that are accurate – and what is scary is how often they can differ to the “official” time.
Clearly, we need a better product.
While travelling to international race meetings last year, I had the opportunity to experience a timing system called Trakus.
This system is used at a number of North American tracks – Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Woodbine, Del Mar, Gulfstream Park – as well as international tracks like Meydan in Dubai, Kranji in Singapore, Deauville in France and Veliefendi in Turkey.
Since gaining an understanding of how Trakus works, as well as seeing the amount of data gathered through this system, I’ve advocated the introduction of this technology in Australia.
It looked like the Moonee Valley Racing Club would install Trakus before the William Reid Stakes, but it didn’t happen and we are still awaiting an announcement from the club.
If this reads like an advertisement for Trakus, I make no apologies. In an era where racing needs to be on the front foot to ensure continued participation from the punter, it is the perfect tool for providing accurate information in a number of forms.
It is for all punters, from professionals to those who have a once a year flutter.
So what is Trakus?
As the name suggests, it essentially tracks a horse’s position in a race. Lucas Marquardt, writing in American publication Thoroughbred Daily News, explained the process further.
“A small radio transmitter (about the size of a credit card) on the saddletowel of each runner sends a signal to antennas located around the track,” he wrote.
“That signal carries an array of information, including a horse’s exact location, in relation to other horses and to the rail, the speed at which he is travelling, and the distance of ground he is covering.”
“Trakus can then, in real time, convert the data in a number or ways, such as creating a small coloured tile, or “chicklet” to represent each runner (the colours correspond with the horse’s saddletowel–one is red, two is white, etc).”
When most see Trakus for the first time, the first and most notable aspect is the television displays which have polarised racing audiences. These involve the little squares, known as “chicklets”, which represent each runner’s place in the field.
Many see the chicklets as a valuable tool when watching a race, especially when trying to differentiate between colours in a large field.
There has been some criticism that it turns a horse race into the equivalent of a keno game, almost like a lottery. The race is still being run but the graphical representation doesn’t do it justice.
When trying to grab the attention of new audiences, though, this is one way to help them understand racing.
However, the chicklets are one small area. The data collected from each race is phenomenal and can help to make judgements about the merits of individual performances within a race.
Last weekend’s Singapore International Cup and Krisflyer Sprint were two such examples.
Let’s start with the Krisflyer Sprint.
Trakus data tells us that Australia’s Bel Sprinter ran seven metres more than the winner Lucky Nine when finishing second three lengths astern.
Seven metres is the rough equivalent of 2.7 lengths, so it is perhaps doubtful that Bel Sprinter could have beaten Lucky Nine had both had identical runs.
While Hong Kong dominated the Cup, running the quinella, perhaps England could claim rotten luck.
Jane Chapple-Hyam’s Mull of Killough, who finished fifth, ran 18m more than Cup winner Military Attack. That’s a rough equivalent of 6.9L, but he was beaten 4.8L.
It’s a similar story for compatriot Red Cadeaux. The 2011 Melbourne Cup runner up finished eighth, beaten 6.5L, but he ran 17m (or 6.6L) more than Military Attack.
It provides food for thought, and while all honours were with the winner, it suggests Mull of Killough and Red Cadeaux should be examined carefully when they next step out.
Effectively, it quantifies data that until now was more speculative than factual.
Instead of simply saying, “Mull of Killough had a wide run, he should have finished closer if he’d managed to slot in,” one can now use figures to draw conclusions.
It is horse racing – there are many variables that would change and so it is hard to make any definitive conclusion.
But it adds more weight to an argument.
Not only does Trakus give data like peak speed, average speed, sectionals and distance covered, but it also allows for numerous virtual replays.
Take the Kentucky Derby recently.
The Trakus data allowed the governing body at Churchill Downs to release a “Ride The Derby Winner” video, where one can experience what it was like for Joel Rosario aboard Orb.
It may not be as realistic as jockey cam but it’s a lot more smooth and gives an idea of what faced the horse and jockey in America’s most famous race.
It may have been a helpful guide when assessing the Preakness Stakes, as it was clear (if the replay wasn’t clear enough) Orb had been the beneficiary of a brutal tempo.
I’d love to see this for a Cox Plate or a Melbourne Cup.
Ride the Kentucky Derby winner Orb with Joel Rosario here:
As with everything in Australian racing, it seems the only restrictions are self-imposed.
It is not only a matter of finances – installing it at every track would be expensive – but it is also a case of internal politics interfering with progress.
Until the rights to vision are sorted once and for all, it will be difficult to move forward with a project as big as Trakus. Once again, it is the industry’s participants who are shafted while industry bodies squabble.
Surely the time has come for the Australian racing industry to invest in new technologies like Trakus to ensure we give racing every possibility to remain relevant for the audiences of the future.
The possibilities are endless, if only we make a technological leap.