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Keeneland gets high-tech toy System tracks horses' positions, speed; can generate animated graphics By Gregory A. Hall Friday, September 22, 2006 LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Along with a new synthetic track and jumbo video boards, gamblers at Keeneland Race Course this fall will find new technology aimed at bringing new fans to the sport and helping bettors better understand why their horse won or lost. Keeneland will be the first U.S. track and the second in North America to use sensors that track exactly where each horse is during the entire race, how far it ran and how fast. "When your horse gets beat this much," Keeneland President Nick Nicholson said, holding his hands apart and laughing, "and you find out he's run 30 or 40 or 50 feet more than the horse that beat him, it'll give you one more thing to talk about. "But it'll be very relevant data to handicappers as well as adding fun to it," he said yesterday. Keeneland is instituting the system as part of a major renovation in which its primary racing surface was changed this summer from dirt to a synthetic Polytrack. The first workouts by horses over the new track took place Wednesday. The fall meet begins Oct. 6, but Keeneland hasn't decided when the new surface will open for training. Unveiling the changes to the media yesterday, Keeneland officials said they had the horses in mind when they chose Polytrack, which is billed as safer than dirt. The technology is for the people. Sensor chips in each horse's saddlecloth will relay that runner's position during the race to antennas around the track. As those positions are recorded, horses' times and speeds also are documented. The changes could revolutionize handicapping -- or, at a minimum, improve the accuracy of the data used to evaluate runners. Keeneland's new video race technology, provided by Massachusetts-based Trakus, will provide a graphic display of a horse's position throughout the race. The technology also can record times and distances between horses that, previously, either were unavailable or subject to human judgment. Most tracks currently only provide a time for the lead horse, leaving bettors to approximate -- like a fifth of a second equals one length -- an individual horse's times. With Trakus, races can be shown -- alongside standard video -- in an animated format that can give an overhead perspective or the jockey's view, for example. This month, Woodbine, near Toronto, started using the Trakus system, which previously has been used to highlight the puck in NHL broadcasts. Canadian-based trainer Mark Casse said he likes the system, although he's not a fan of the rectangular boxes that represent horses on some displays. "Maybe for the veteran racegoer, it might seem a little foolish," he said. "But I think for the new person, it's something nice, and that's what they're trying to do -- to help the new people get interested." Keeneland's use of the system initially will be concentrated on video monitors and new infield screens. Simulcast customers, in Louisville for instance, won't see the new information during the live race, Keeneland officials said. As the fall meet goes on, they may see a listing of the running order for the entire field and Trakus replays. "Obviously the next step is the simulcast signal," said G.D. Hieronymus, the track's broadcasting and simulcasting director. On-track, two infield videoboards will show Trakus animation during the race. That could include video-game- like virtual presentations of the race. Also, an in-house video channel will be dedicated to showing Trakus "replays" and data, including a listing showing each horse's speed and individual times at different points in a race -- like the first quarter mile. After the race, Keeneland plans to show -- along with the order of finish for the entire field -- how many feet each horse traveled during the race. Some of the information may be posted on the track's Web site after races. "By creating computer databases that are accessible to handicappers all over the world, we'll make a giant step toward reaching out to younger fans, to more computer-savvy fans," Nicholson said. Trakus board member Barry Weisbord said he believes the graphical possibilities may grow the industry more than the data created for handicappers. In the future, the possibility for a viewer at home to watch a Trakus presentation of the race and change the vantage point should help racing with a younger audience. "Younger people are very much used to enjoying animations that they can interact with. … The game business is a huge business," he said. "So we're taking it to another level because it's not a game, it's real." Reporter Gregory A. Hall can be reached at (502) 582-4087. http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060922/BUSINESS/609220321/1003
"Keeneland gets high-tech toy"