A wireless timing system that has been successfully utilized at England's Newmarket racecourse will be tested in the U.S. for the first time during the fall meet at Keeneland Racecourse that begins Oct. 8.
During its meeting Monday at the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington, Ky., the Kentucky Racing Authority gave Keeneland approval to conduct a pilot program using the TurfTrax Speed System that track's an individual horse's time at various stages of a race. The system, which will only be tested on a limited basis, also takes into account the horse's placement on the track as the race progresses in determining the horse's fractional times.
The pilot program is being conducted under the aegis of EquiBase, which serves as the official database for U. S. horse racing.
Keeneland president Nick Nicholson explained that an electronic chip and antenna, weighing less than four ounces, are placed inside a horse's saddle cloth to transmit data to receiving mounted antenna placed around the racing oval.
Nicholson stressed that while the system is experimental at this time, it has the potential to revolutionize the way pace and timing information from horse races is obtained and used in handicapping.
"The reality is that Thoroughbred racing's is not much different at its core than it has been for years and years," Nicholson said, explaining the current method in recording race results by using chart callers who visually calculate placement of horses at the "points of call" throughout a race and the number lengths each horse in a race finishes behind the race winner. "They do a great job but it is not accurate enough. Hopefully, this will be the way of the future. If it is, we can create an entire new set of data that will appeal to an entire new generation."
Nicholson said the TurfTrax Speed System would also be used for morning workouts.
Nicholson said the system will be tested using golf carts going around the track before it is used in an actual race. He said the tentative date for using the wireless technology is Oct. 22, but that it would be publicly announced once it is set. The traditional method of timing races and tracking horses at different points of call will remain unchanged while the pilot program is conducted.
"We know other tracks share a desire to give data to fans and we hope to roll this out nationwide, but we need to discipline ourselves," Nicholson said. "This deserves our full scrutiny and we're going to judge with our head, not our heart."
The authority also approved implementation of a new wager during the upcoming Keeneland meet that functions somewhat like the stock market's mutual fund.
The "Mutuel Fun" wager, with a minimum $20, will allow bettors to buy into a bet that covers five races on the daily race card. The selections and reasons for the wagers will be made by Jude Feld, who works in Keeneland's publicity office.
The "Mutuel Fun" wagers will go into the regular pari-mutuel pools for each race.
Nicholson said the new wager has the potential to allow novice race-goers to participate in wagering and to learn how handicapper Feld made the selections. Nicholson said the track plans to promote the "Mutuel Fun" wager so that it is clear which races are involved and the success of the fund throughout the race day.
The meeting marked the first day on the job for Jim Gallagher as the racing authority's executive director.
"I am a firm believer in what happens nationally affects us locally," said Gallagher, formerly an executive with the New York Racing Association.