Advancements in Race Tracking
Will Duff Gordon
Will Duff Gordon, CEO, Total Performance Data
Will Bradley
Will Bradley, Director and Founder, Gmax Technology Ltd.

STUART S. JANNEY III: Speaking of data, timing is one of the most important data elements in horse racing, especially to handicappers, who are instrumental to the success of our sport.

The first timed horse races were in England in the 1730s, and in the late 1850s, ironically because of horse racing, the first mass-market stopwatch in America was created. In 1937, photo finish technology was first used at Del Mar for the first time. And today, we have global positioning systems that use satellites to track our horses.

GPS is essential to numerous industries, from the military to emerging technologies such as driverless cars. Horse racing needs to be on top of this cutting-edge technology, and Equibase has been at the forefront of getting us there.

After extensive research into GPS technology companies in 2016, Equibase started working with Total Performance Data in 2017 to help utilize GPS at racetracks across the Unites States and in Canada.

Will Duff Gordon, of Total Performance Data, and Will Bradley, of Gmax, will tell you more about it.

WILL DUFF GORDON: I grew up being quite interested in horse racing through some family connections that owned some jumps horses back in the day. So I’d always have a flutter on a major betting event. I’ve owned fast horses, slow horses, you name it, and then switched out to, I guess, financial data into horse racing data in around 2014, 2015, when we met Gmax and we began this journey.

WILL BRADLEY: So I first worked with RFID systems, and we were tracking things like supermarket trolleys, baggage handling, people walking around conferences. This is sort of early 2000s, so consumer GPS accuracy became a lot more accurate, and then there was the explosion of satellites for cars, then in increasing personal smart devices with GPS built in.

WILL DUFF GORDON: At that moment, it seemed like a great opportunity, that no one was creating a data business inside the sport of racing. Everybody else at that stage was focused upon human sports, they’re all kind of wearable devices.

Wearable devices were coming into athletes, and that was all being applied to training and football. Racing was having, you know, a little bit of a renaissance in that area, but no one was really kind of creating a global, huge data set that could potentially create deeper engagement and more betting in the sport.

WILL BRADLEY: So the way most satellites work is they actually -- they don’t just use the GPS data, what they’re doing is they’re snapping you to the known location of the road. So they have maps of roads built into them, and they enhance the apparent accuracy by making use, snap onto the road.

But of course once you go more free form and you’re really interested in the precise accuracy, then those kind of systems don’t necessarily work so well.

We initially didn’t think we could do it. To start with, we were tracking mainly endurance racing, horse racing, that’s where we first became involved in equestrian sports. The working GPS constellation I think is in the region of -- was originally in the region of around 24 satellites, and now we’ve got BeiDou, the Chinese system, GLONASS, the Russian system. We’ve got augmentation systems like WAAS and EGNOS, and Galileo, of course, European system. And there’s also regional systems in India and Japan and other places looking too.

WILL DUFF GORDON: We are now distributing data from 80 race courses worldwide. We’re leading the world at sort of what we do. A lot of more work to do. I think we know the technology is going to need constant innovation and rethinking.

I guess the sort of difference TPD and Gmax have taken is we’re trying to be a content data business rather than an event space business. We’re not interested in earning and just being rewarded for just going to events and doing our thing and then going. We’re interested in the content, and how we acquire the content isn’t as important as what that content -- how low latency the content is, how many horses you’ve got in the database, what you’re doing with that content.

So we’re starting to do a lot more with the output of the system because the system is generating so much content every day. So we’re doing vast amounts of content, and TPD’s job is to commercialize that.

WILL BRADLEY: So I think we’re moving from the relatively small number of products to really starting to have a family of products that support each other and allow these different stakeholders to achieve different benefits.

So traditional timing eyes in isolation, a challenge to install and very costly to install because of the hardwiring required. And also they require a live operator, someone is standing at that desk, flicking switches to make sure it works and make sure that false alarms are suppressed and so on.

Whereas the GPS itself, well, fundamentally the GPS is trying to pick out the signals from satellites that are thousands of kilometers away, and it’s on the rear of the horse rather than the nose of the horse, and so there will be some limits to the accuracy that can be achieved, and an eye is more accurate.

So the question is how can we combine these technologies to deliver a system that both provides excellent tracking for the graphics and the statistics that it can generate, but also provides the provision of very accurate times, as good as eyes, but much easier and cheaper to install.

And the trick is, by combining the two, we can take the best of both worlds. And particularly it’s been enormously helpful that Equibase has now become a timing company, as well, both from the contractor side but also because that has allowed us to draw from the experience of one of the leading -- you know, from Teletimer, from one of the leading providers of the traditional eye timing systems.

So what we’ve done is we’ve taken their designs for the eyes themselves, the bit that detects the horse passing, and we’ve taken our radio technology, GPS technology, to combine that together to create a portable eye. That overcomes all of the problems that you have with infrastructure costs.

The next trick is that by combining it with the GPS data, you can also overcome a lot of the operational problems because, instead of needing to have an operator watching the system and arming it as the horses approach the bend, we know when the horses are approaching the bends because we have the GPS data. So we can now deliver the accuracy of our eyes with a fraction of the installation cost and a fraction of the operational overhead.

WILL DUFF GORDON: Equibase wanted to go on a journey of capturing more horse racing performance data in a nation which probably led the world in terms of completeness, depth, robustness of American racing data that had timing systems in place for hundred years, very, very rich charts full of data.

I guess what we’ve been trying to do through Equibase is capture that same information in a more scalable and automated way, make it possible to have that live, and then slowly enrich it with things like stride data, real-time velocity data, miles per hour data, which you probably can’t get from laser beams and chart callers.

So we’ve done a fabulous job collecting kind of black-and-white tabular data, and we’re kind of bringing in sort of speeds and graph and performance metrics, so I think they complement each other quite well. But it is certainly -- you know, North America is a country very into its stats, and hopefully we can just sort of add to that.

Over half, edging towards to two-thirds, of American states have now passed bills to legalize sports betting, which means that you can now bet on any type of American sport in all of those states on your phone, on your computer, and you don’t have to be in Las Vegas or at a racetrack to bet. So that’s enormous. So there’s a huge influx of interest in betting in America.

The unknown is quite how betting on racing will sit alongside betting on NFL, NBA. We’re trying be there to help and trying to make sure that racing has as good a set of pictures and data as, say, NFL, NBA has so that kind of it is a -- there’s a potential to put all sports under a single umbrella.

You certainly need fast pictures, fast data in running odds, very good HD. You need all these sorts of assets, and we’re just providing kind of one piece of that. Because we do know from our European experience that sports that have the richest set of data, as well as pictures, as well as odds, capture the most betting turnover and handle.

WILL BRADLEY: I think it’s fair to say that we are the world leaders in GPS tracking of horses and racing. We’re certainly the most widely installed, and I think we’re, by some margin, also the most mature in the ease of use of the products and the data that comes out of it.

We do have competitors, of course, and what you typically see is I guess they’re more technology-led rather than user-led. So my background is in product design, particularly consumer products, medical devices, things that the most important thing is not necessarily the technology itself but is what is delivered to the end user.

We really focus on that and try to make sure that we’re not using technology for the sake of technology. We’re really finding the most elegant solutions to the problems.

So key requirements from day one were low latency, high accuracy. But also it’s simplicity of installation. At many race courses you’ll get complete coverage from a single antenna using our system. No dependence on Wi-Fi. No dependence on mobile phone network.

WILL DUFF GORDON: The thing that we’ve perhaps done reasonably well is be quite patient and work on a quite sort of -- quite an equally spread sort of responsibilities across a wide number of teams to get this kind of technology into the marketplace.

We’ve not taken the view that we need to control everything, from the creation of the kit, to the installation, to the management, to the system, to the data spread. We kind of see ourselves as working with the experts in each of those areas.

So I find that TPD and Gmax, Equibase, I think we’ve done quite well as a group, is kind of leverage each other’s strength. We really appreciate the patience of Equibase and the American racetracks that adopted our system early on.

We found a really good, really willing audience over there, which we don’t take for granted, we really appreciate. And this will continue to only be a successful service if a team continues to kind of all pull together in the same direction to try and raise the quality of the data for American racing and increase the depth and variety of it.

STUART S. JANNEY III: Thank you. It really is incredible what sports are able to do with GPS technology. I look forward to what’s ahead for our sport.

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