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I am fairly new to the horse racing world and am fascinated by the amount of raw data that is collected, maintained and distributed.
I am particularly curious as to how past performance information used in PP sheets is actually compiled and recorded. Are there independent folks at the track that actually clock the horses? Does each track employee people to record it? How is it then released/distributed to sites like Equibase, DRF, etc...?
Any insight is appreciated!
Two ways. First I'll give you the "old school" method then I'll tell you how better racetracks do it.
A guy in the press box watches the race with binoculars. Not the track announcer, this guy is called the chart caller. As the field passes each "point of call" (be it start post, 3/4 pole, whatever), he calls the margins into an audio recorder, sounding like this (using the Kentucky Derby chart for my example, for the 1/4 mile call which in that race is first time past the finish post):
6 by 1, 5 by 1, 11 by 1 1/2, 17 by 2, 3 by 3....
(so that means the 6 horse by 1 length over the 5 horse by 1 length over the 11 horse by 1 1/2 over the 17 horse by 2 lengths over the 3 horse...)
At the same time there's a guy who runs the teletimer - he activates the timing beam at each of those fractional calls (1/4, 1/2, 3/4, mile, finish) so that he time the lead horse breaks the beam is recorded. (if that system is malfunctioning he might time the race using a stopwatch instead but this is rare).
After the race is over, he and the other Equibase staffer(s) listen to the recording, enter the numbers into their computer, enter in the teletimer's clockings, and the chart is generated.
Now the newer way, which has been used for years in more advanced jurisdictions like Dubai and Hong Kong and now at better North American tracks like Woodbine (first to have it), NYRA, Churchill Downs, Southern CA...., is called Trakus. If you watch auto racing (NASCAR and Formula 1 especially) you'll be very familiar with how this works. There is a transponder somewhere on the horse (usually a specially designed pocket in the saddlecloth) and there are antennas installed surrounding the racetrack. The antenna array instantaneously keeps track of every horse's position, speed, and direction. (so it works like GPS but much faster and more accurate since it's using antennae in close proximity, not satellites). Trakus' computers use this info to both time the race (final time and fractions) and get the fractional positions. When the race is over, Equibase's system merely plugs the Trakus data in and generates a chart.
(edited to add...)
I've watched the guys at Woodbine do this. They're logged into Equibase via a web form or maybe a Windows app, but same difference -- they're merely entering the data they collected, which is uploaded to Equibase, and the official chart is generated which is a mashup of all that data plus of course the pari-mutuel numbers (payoffs, pools, etc). Equibase is the sole official data collector for North American racing; all the others (DRF and BRIS being the biggies but also Trackmaster) merely download the same data from Equibase and repackage It in their formats. Equibase (in Lexington, KY if I'm not mistaken) runs the whole show.
Hope this helps!
Thanks, Tex! Very informative.
So the chart caller and teletimer are Equibase employees? Is that to say Equibase actually pays for them to be working at every track in the country?
Also, does Equibase drive the whole past performance engine? Meaning, without Equibase there'd be no past performances?
I'm maybe 90% sure the chartcallers and whoever enters the data into Equibase's system are employed by Equibase and not the track owner. However, the teletimer operator probably is a track employee as the timing system is owned by the track and not Equibase. At Trakus facilities, I'm not sure if the Trakus operator is employed by Trakus or by the racetrack owner. But in that latter case that data still has to be downloaded/merged/entered into Equibase's system so the track would still need such a person to do it.
I have seen at Woodbine, if Trakkus is malfunctioning the Equibase team springs into action and calls the positions into an audio recorder in the "old way" while a second guy times the race by hand,
To answer your latter two questions, yes. For years the Daily Racing Form employed chartcallers at all the tracks, so it was the producer/owner of all that data. For a few years (I'm going to say 1988-1995?) some tracks had two chartcallers - one working for Equibase and the other working for DRF*. Eventually Equibase (owned by the Jockey Club) bought all of DRF's data and became the sole producer/owner/provider of all that data.
If there was no Equibase (let's say somehow it went bankrupt and all the chartcallers were thrown out of work) then I'd assume the old way would come back -- DRF or somebody else (BRIS maybe? which is owned by Churchill Downs) would employ chartcallers again. I'd assume either of those companies would bid to buy all the data back from Equibase in the liquidation process. But I doubt this will come to pass. Remember, Equibase is owned by "the industry" meaning the tracks own a piece of it too. So it can't fail. Unless all the tracks and racehorse owners decide to pull out at the same time.
This might be useful reading about it:
*there's a side story to this which isn't well documented. Rather than go through it all, I'll let Steve Haskin tell you about it and then I'll explain after, where that all fits in to this thread: http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2016/09/08/the-drf-vs-racing-times-war-of-91.aspx
So as you can see DRF had its own chartcallers, collected its own data, and made its own charts. Racing Times used Equibase's chartcallers and Equibase data/charts. When Racing Times folded and was ultimately swallowed up by the DRF, suddenly having two chartcallers made no sense. To save money DRF let all its chartcallers go and just use Equibase's data instead. Which is where we are today.