Even when watching on the huge video board on the infield at Saratoga Race Course, it’s hard to follow horses all the way around the track.
Thanks to one of the most noticeable updates at Saratoga, the addition of the Trakus system, fans have a better idea of what their horse is doing when they drop out of sight for a moment or two. Trakus provides a virtual view of each horse’s position in the field, each represented by their post number on a strip below the actual video. The numbers move in, out, forward and back as the horses do the same on the video feed.
Trakus director of racing information Pat Cummings has been coming to Saratoga for nearly 15 years, so he was aware of the challenges facing fans as they tried to keep an eye on their betting interests.
“The place has tremendous charm, but it actually has severe limitations for race watching,” Cummings said. “The angle at which the camera shoots here is very low. The rail placements are high, and it’s tougher to watch a race here and perceive what’s going on, much more so than a race at Belmont Park.
“Belmont Park’s a mile and a half in circumference, and the action happens farther away from you than on almost any racetrack in America. But it’s so big and expansive, and the camera angle’s so high, that there’s really nothing interfering with that view. So while you have the charm of the actual race here, race watching is very difficult.”
Trakus got off the ground in 2006 and has since added 16 tracks, worldwide, to its portfolio. Before the NYRA circuit — Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct — Trakus was already being used at Churchill Downs, Santa Anita, Keeneland, Delmar and Woodbine.
Cummings said Trakus records data for about 55 percent of the racing handle in the United States, although it is recording that data on only about 16 percent of the total race days in America. That means it is being used more at the larger tracks, which host bigger races and more fans.
The usefulness of Trakus doesn’t end at the video board. The technology that allows the system to track a horse step for step around the grounds also allows it to measure the actual distance traveled by each horse.
Trakus uses its data to provide a chart for races that allows viewers to look at the time and distance traveled by each horse for each individual quarter-mile. For an example of the benefit of these charts, or T-Charts, Cummings points to the Suburban at Belmont.
“Zivo came from last to first, so you could sit here and say, ‘How fast was he running in the last quarter of a mile?’ He ran 24.41,” Cummings said. “[Second-place] Moreno, who was forwardly placed the whole time, was almost a full second slower. He covered 36 feet more than the winner did. He broke from 11, and that’s all outside on the first turn. So 36 feet, we’re talking about four lengths, and he was beaten about three.”
T-Charts for the Saratoga meet can be found at NYRA.com under the header “Racing Info,” after which viewers can click on “Trakus.”
All the new data available to bettors may seem extraneous to some, but most bettors would rather have too much information than too little.
“It’s up to the bettor to determine what is valuable,” Cummings said. “Sometimes, people will come up to me and say, ‘Hey, did you see so-and-so did x, y and z?’ And I say, ‘I don’t think that’s all that compelling, but hey, knock yourself out.’ ”
All of it, the charts and the video tracking, boils down to an enhanced experience for the fans.
“I always look at it this way: if you stand on the rail, and you’ve got $2 to win on No. 10, and all you can see is the five seconds when they run in front of you, that’s five seconds of excitement and a little bit of anticipation waiting for it to happen,” Cummings said. “Now, in a mile and an eighth race on the dirt, you can follow No. 10, and that’s roughly two minutes of excitement. So I always think if you can extend the pleasure of following your bet, following the horses and knowing where they are, that’s always good for fans.”