The Brock Talk

Monday, June 28, 2010

Horse Racing is 120 Years Ahead of Baseball and Soccer

Knowing very little about the game of soccer and in particular the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), it was still very obvious there were two blatantly bad calls Sunday during the World Cup. Video replays showed that Argentina forward Carlos Tevez was clearly offside before he scored the opening goal in a 3-1 victory over Mexico Sunday. Video replays also clearly showed that England’s Frank Lampard’s first half shot that would have tied the game at 2-2 against Germany, hit inside the goal after bouncing off the crossbar. Lampard’s goal was not awarded and Germany went on to win 4-1.

These two bad calls, horrifying calls in Mexico and England, have been just the latest in a flurry of officiating errors in the World Cup that cannot be overturned because of FIFA’s refusal to use video replay to review referee calls on certain plays.

In June, major league baseball was embarrassed when Detroit Tiger Aramando Galarraga lost his bid for a perfect game when umpire Jim Joyce blew a ninth inning call with two outs. Again, no video replay.

Why is this of interest to a horse racing fan? At times it is important to reflect on how forward thinking horse racing has been when compared to other sports. True, the leaders of our industry have been slow to embrace certain technologies as they did with television in the 1950s and 1960s when football and baseball were taking full advantage of the new medium. There are other examples as well.

But when it comes to the video technology, horse racing was at the forefront some 69 years ago at Hollywood Park when they first began using the “binocular camera.” In 1941 the eight patrol judges at Hollywood Park used the device to record each race. The film was then processed and spliced and viewed by the stewards the following morning. This system had no impact on the official finish, but was instrumental in regulating riding infractions by jockeys. The system was modified and improved in 1945 at Hollywood Park and adopted at race tracks throughout North America. Churchill Downs was slow to adopt the system, but In 1954, film patrol was used to officiate the Kentucky Derby.

Using technology to determine the outcome of a horse race far preceded the video patrol. The first photographs used to determine the results of horses races is thought to have been taken by Ernest Marks of Plainfeld, New Jersey in 1888. But none of those images exist today. Two years later, J.C. Hemment used a single exposure camera to photograph the race finishes at Sheepshead Bay race track, but the horses were not yet at the finish line in the photograph. The single image technology continued to develop and improve but was never perfected because it was virtually impossible to capture the precise moment the horses hit the finish line.

In 1937, Lorenzo Del Riccio, an optical engineer who headed the technical research laboratories Paramount Pictures and would later develop the “binocular camera”, introduced his strip camera at Del Mar. Still in use today, this shutterless camera is believed to be accurate within 1/2,000 of a second. The strip camera is fixed on top of the grandstand vocusing on a four-inch slice of race track at the finish line while the film moves past an vertical slit approximately .00801-inch wide in the camera. The film moves at approximately the same speed at the horses running, capturing the image during the duration of the finish as the horses pass the finish line. The result is a long strip showing each horse in the race at the precise time they cross the finish line.

Horse racing needs this type of accuracy much more than other sports because of the track and regulator interests in the gaming aspect. But horse racing should be credited for not only embracing technology to determine official results, bet developing much at that technology as well.


Connie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

You're always a wealth of information, Brock. It's very refreshing to see that our sport was at the forefront of video/photo technology.

You mentioned the failure to embrace television like some of the other sports did. I think how unfortunate that was, since back during T.V.'s infancy, the three major sports were baseball, boxing, and horse racing. And one of television's first big stars was Native Dancer. Yet, somehow, we dropped the ball and didn't move forward with the new communications medium. I presume some of the racetracks feared people would stay home instead of coming out to the track.

Brock Sheridan said...

One of the great tragedies of the sport was our missing the network television boat.

Anonymous said...

Great post Brock. It's strange that Horse Racing fell so far back in prominence from other sports after having such an advantage. One of the biggest problems today with our sport is the lack of quality marketing. We have a great product it's just not presented right. Obcviously we have our problems in the industry but with the right targeting of television viewers we can get Horse Racing much closer to the top.
I personally think the Triple Crown is one of the most ingenious challenges in any sport and has the potential to be as big as the super bowl.

malcer said...

Interesting history tidbits.

The problem in soccer is that every major blown call brings up ye olde cry for video replays, but the fact was and is that the system is simply not applicable to soccer, a sport where a single attack can be the result of 3 or more minutes of play development.

The two gross errors on Saturday could both have been avoided by hawk-eye- or chip-in-the-ball technology which is already existent and should have been implemented years ago, but as for video replays the problem will always remain: since there can be no "fair" way to draw the line on which sitautions should be reviewed and when; all the video replay will really do is shift the problem, and make the games slower and less exciting.