The addition of modern technology to horse racing

By: Blogger


When Sideline Sid flicked over to the TAB Trackside Chanel recently to catch the finish of a race in which he had a small investment, he was reminded how technology has changed horse racing.

Moments after two horses went over the line locked together, the colour photo finish was flashed-up to show the winner had sneaked home by a nose.

In 1946, the Auckland Racing Club introduced the first photo finish camera in New Zealand, called "Photo Chart", which measured time instead of distance.

The image was contained on photographic film, which then took some minutes to develop, as the horses returned to scale.

While the black and white photo would confirm or very occasionally change the judges’ provisional call, a particularly close finish would see the judge and his assistant using magnifying glasses to declare a result.

The first dead heat was declared during October 1946, when the judge was unable to separate Royal Praise and Saffron Walden at the finish of the Liverpool handicap at Ellerslie.

The world’s first triple dead heat was declared in New Zealand, when Wimpy, Night Owl and Keff crossed the finish line locked together at the Westport Trotting Club meeting on December 27, 1957.

The only problem with the monochrome finish photographs, was that they dried out after being developed and occasionally showed a minuscule difference to the original.

However, the judges’ decision is always final, with aggrieved punters muttering under their breath, as they viewed the displayed print on the race-day office wall later in the day.

The arrival of the digital age changed race finishes forever, with the digital camera almost instantly providing confirmation of close contests.

A half-century ago, March was the time of year that the locals dusted the mothballs off suits and women's finery, and got ready for two days of thoroughbred racing action at Bay of Plenty Racing Club headquarters at the Gate Pa racetrack.

The Stars Travel Invitation Stakes and the Japan New Zealand Trophy, which is still run today, brought full houses to the local race course.

The 1972 Moa Publication Racing Annual stated that $245,412 had been turned over on course on Stars Travel day, which equates to around one and a half million dollars today.

Punters attended horseracing around the country in their thousands, with the race-goers driven by the payouts after each race, unlike the nations TAB’s where there’s a next-day wait to receive punting rewards.

Continued technology advancement has seen punters given instant access to placing a bet, through the Internet, using laptops, tablets and mobile phones, while catching the race live on Trackside TV.

However, there has been one change in thoroughbred racing that brings some relief to animal welfare issues.

In times past, jockeys would belt the living daylights out of their mounts as they charged for the winning post.

Today, there are rules in place that state that jockeys can only hit their mounts with the whip every second stride, over the last 200m.

The whips are also padded, unlike earlier days when horses would sometimes return to scale with visual welts on their rumps.

One wonders of a world two or three centuries ahead, where animals racing for peoples enjoyment and reward is a distant memory, sitting alongside lions savaging slaves in Ancient Rome coliseums’.


Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian