October 17, 2018
Timing is Everything
By: Jonathan Stettin
Timing is everything. Not only in horse racing but in life in general. Timing affects so much in our lives and how things play out. In racing so much is based on timing. It is a focal point of the sport in more than one way. The timing of spaces between races, timing of workouts, timing of claims, and of course the timing of the races themselves.
I like to look at times in my handicapping. I look at the fractions of the winner, the leader, and the horses behind. Knowing the fractional splits of all the horses in a race helps me accurately figure out what the pace will be, and when I factor in the trends and intangibles that a computer can’t, it gives me an edge. Paying as close attention as I do to the times of races, including internal fractions, I have always been frustrated by a system that has not advanced with technological capabilities.
One thing that has always annoyed me is that we time horses after a running start, as opposed to flat out, right out of the break. The timer doesn’t kick immediately, and this is referred to as a run up. This makes the first fraction appear faster than it actually is. Run up distances change and keeping track of them is work, and necessary to determine true speed from, shall we say false, or deceptive speed. I would much prefer timing races from the gate, but this would slow down average times and nobody else, especially commercial breeders, wants to see that. Everybody wants faster times and more speed, but using run ups and deceptive timing is not the way to create it.
We have all watched races where we just know the fractions are off. They can be too fast or too slow, but we know they just aren’t right. It is very frustrating and seems to happen more on grass than dirt, but that is just a casual observation. Often, they will be corrected or called out but frequently they are not. Wrong fractional times and final times affect every speed figure out there, whether it is Beyers, Rags, Bris, Timeform, Thoro-Graph, or even your own. I make my own figures, so this is extremely problematic. As I have studied it, I find it happens more than we would like to think. Trakus was a good solution, or so I thought, but there are errors and flaws there as well. Technologically, it is a step in the right direction, in an industry which has not exactly embraced the technology available to it.
Trakus uses chicklets in saddle cloths and beams on the racetrack to time horses and measure how many feet they ran. It has not proven to be a perfect system. Equibase recently announced, what I felt was a long time coming, and frankly overdue, GPS system to time races. While I wonder how bad weather will affect this, as it does my satellite TV, I think this is another step in the right direction. I am optimistic it will be an improvement, at least when the weather is good. The system is being installed at Woodbine, Golden Gate, Laurel, and Pimlico. Equibase’s partner in this venture, Total Performance Data has systems installed in the United Kingdom where they are based.
Jonathan Zammit, the Vice President of Thoroughbred Racing Operationsat Woodbine had the following to say:
"We have been using GPS timing since the beginning of July and have been pleased with not only its performance but the flexibility it offers. We are also keen to explore future capabilities of the system."
I believe the future timing of thoroughbred racing lies within the GPS system and it should. In an industry plagued with issues and where time is crucial to the majority of participants, you would think this is something that would be prioritized and explored to the fullest by all circuits. After all, timing is everything.