Since its introduction to Woodbine's simulcast program on September 13, 2006, racing fans have been divided on their opinion of Trakus, the innovative racehorse tracking system, with two distinct camps and nobody in between. One of its initial backers in the racing media is turfwriter Bill Finley, who sang its praises in an editorial here.
Andrew Macdonald, Woodbine Entertainment's Vice-President of Marketing and Customer Communications said, "This is yet another innovation embraced by Woodbine in our efforts to deliver the best experience and information to our customers."
Bob McCarthy, President and CEO of Trakus, Inc said, "Working closely with Woodbine as our first partner racetrack has been a great experience. Woodbine, with its multiple track surfaces, racing formats, and innovative production team, is a unique and ideal venue for showcasing our technology."
Traditionally, the Equibase chartcaller, watching the race through binoculars, announces the positions of the horses at each point of call into a tape recorder, and then after the race is run, transcribes this recording into the running lines you see in the result charts at the end of each race day. Imagine watching a horse race from above the finish line, and as the field crosses the 1/8 pole, having to correctly identify each horse and accurately measure the distance in lengths between them. This task is so difficult, Churchill Downs actually employs two chartcallers for the Kentucky Derby, one designated to call the leading horses and the other to call the trailers. Despite the large margin of error inherent by this method, race fans continue to rely on information collected this way, trusting the skill of the chartcaller every time they pick up a Racing Form to handicap a race.
Trakus solves this problem using wireless technology. At Woodbine, thirty antennas were installed along the outside rail of the 1 1/2 mile E.P. Taylor Turf Course, which surrounds both the 1 mile Polytrack surface as well as the 7 furlong harness track. Inside each saddlecloth is hidden a lightweight radio transponder. As the horses race around the track, the antennas pick up the signal given off by each transponder, and this data is compiled by computers in the press box to determine the position and speed of each horse in the race in real-time.
During the Woodbine telecast, the bottom 1/3 of the screen shows a graphical representation of the racetrack, showing each horse as a color-coded numbered rectangle, or "chiclet", so the viewer can quickly tell which horse is leading and by how many lengths, how far each horse is off the rail, and more importantly, where the late-closers are during the early stages, as generally any horse more than 5 lengths off the lead does not appear in the regular TV camera angle used for race coverage. The Trakus data is also used to ensure that the first three horse names and numbers appearing on the screen and on the toteboard are accurate. There is a lag of about half a second between what happens on the track and when it appears in the graphical part of the screen.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg for this technology. After the race is official and after the regular video replay of a race is shown, Woodbine's telecast shows a purely graphical re-enactment of the race, the "VirtualRace". On the local television broadcast of the Woodbine Mile, the Trakus software was able to present the stretch run as seen by winning jockey Pat Valenzuela, as the skilled rider guided Becrux through several holes to come through for the win. Trakus is also able to determine the exact distance, in feet, each horse traveled during a race from gate to wire and how long it took for the horse to complete that distance, taking "trip handicapping" to the next level.
Despite the obvious application of more accurate charts, the system is not yet approved for this use by Equibase so Woodbine continues to employ chartcallers to collect horse positions in the traditional way.
Trakus may have its dissenters, but clearly it is here to stay. Keeneland is installing the system for use at its prestigious fall meet, and Woodbine CEO David Willmot said that handle is up since the system was installed, citing that simulcast racing fans would rather bet on racetracks where they can more easily follow their horses.