Human athletes have been following training routines at least since the earliest version of the Olympic games began in about 950 BC.  Racehorse training also has a long history, with the sport as we know it today having its origins in 18th century England.

Training of athletes has improved greatly over the years with refined scientific approaches, better nutrition, and sports medicine.  But digital technologies are now assisting like never before.

This introduction leads to the subject for today–a company called Zebra Technologies.  It offers RFID (radio frequency ID), for example, to assist companies to efficiently manage inventory and manufacturing.  One of the firm’s product lines is Zebra MotionWorks Sports Solutions, which is being used by Nascar, some women’s soccer teams, and the National Football League.

The company explains how RFID tags are currently deployed by 17 NFL teams:

  • “Tags on players track vital stats indoors and out to within inches.
  • A custom implementation of receivers and data hubs at the stadium house real-time analytics hardware and software.
  • Algorithms aggregate players’ statistics and display them in real time in custom applications.
  • Coaches, players, broadcast media, and fans use new data to improve the game experience.”

This process is similar to Trakus, the system installed at some horse racetracks.  Trakus describes its service as follows:

  • “More accurate and immediate than GPS or other positioning techniques, the Trakus system uses proprietary wireless communications to track tags fitted into each horse’s saddlecloth during live racing.
  • The durable, lightweight tag weighs 2.8 ounces (86 g) and it has the profile and size of a credit card or PCMCIA computer card, about 2 x 3 inches.
  • For racetracks, the size, format, and layout typical of North American racing, the Trakus system uses 6-10 trackside enclosures that host small antennas located at various points of convenience around the outermost track surface, e.g., camera turrets, light poles, grandstands, etc.
  • These trackside enclosures, computational server, and database instantaneously provide the precise location of each horse, average and peak speed, trip distance per segment, and relative distance from the leader throughout the race.”

Data from companies like Zebra MotionWorks Sports Solutions and Trakus will no doubt increasingly be used to enhance the training of racehorses.  Additionally, the data derived from RFID tracking are made-to-order for serious handicappers.

Training racehorses has definitely entered a new era.  While in-depth handicapping of racehorses has always been data intensive, RFID tracking provides even more empirical insights.

RFID technologies are not disruptive to the traditional methods of training and handicapping, but rather, are sustaining in that they can improve existing processes instead of replacing them.

Copyright © 2014 Horse Racing Business.


North American racetracks have searched without effect for a strategy to reverse the persistent decline in pari-mutuel wagering.  Thus their preferred approach has been to transition into gaming, thereby relegating pari-mutuel wagering to a subordinate status and compelling the bloodstock side of the horse-racing industry to downsize.

Horse racing’s lack of a coherent industry strategy is increasingly a liability as the gambling terrain becomes more crowded and the competition more intense.  A shakeout has already begun with the closing of prominent casinos and racetracks.

In a new book titled The Soft Edge (by Rich Karlgaard), FedEx founder and CEO Fred Smith cogently elucidates on why strategy is the sine qua non in any industry or business:  “You can have the best operations.  You can be the most adept at whatever it is that you’re doing.   But if you have a bad strategy, it is all for naught…  Absent a viable strategy, you’re in the process of going out of business.”

The decentralized structure of the horse racing enterprise has inhibited the formulation and execution of anything resembling a grand strategy to make the sport/business more attractive to existing and prospective customers, who have plenty of gambling and entertainment options to choose among.  Whether horse racing’s major interest groups will voluntarily align for the common good to proactively address divisive but make-or-break issues is a question that so far has been answered mostly in the negative, though commendable actions by, for example, the Jockey Club, the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium, and the Stronach Group are significant steps in the right direction.

Smith’s battle-tested words of wisdom should be sufficient motivation for racing’s most influential individuals and organizations to unite behind key initiatives.

Copyright © 2014 Blood-Horse Publications.  Used with permission.


The Keeneland autumn meet concluded with all-sources wagering of $122.9 million and on-track wagering of $17.6 million.  These represented year-over-year declines of 12% and 3%, respectively.

The main concern Keeneland management should have is that handle for their October meet was down by 12% (as compared to October 2013) while year-over-year pari-mutuel wagering in the United States for October was up by 2.72%.  Using this latter benchmark, Keeneland all-sources pari-mutuel wagering was 14.72% below the norm for all U. S. racetracks and ADW services.

Some observers suggested that the decreases in handle were largely due to Keeneland’s switch from a synthetic racetrack to a dirt racetrack.  (Ironically, Keeneland had offered that American bettors prefer dirt races as a reason for abandoning a synthetic racetrack surface.)  Bettors, particularly big bettors, did not know how the newly-installed dirt track at Keeneland would play and what its biases might be.  It is plausible, therefore, that some of them took a wait-and-see attitude and bet less than usual or not at all.

Keeneland’s management cited the often unseasonably cool and rainy weather as an explanation.  Lending some support to their contention is the fact that on the days when the weather was good–on the final six days of the meet–attendance figures exceeded those for the same days in 2013.

The forgoing reasons are not mutually exclusive, of course, and thus they all no doubt have an element of truth, and there may be other reasons as well, such as short fields that serve to depress handle or even competition from an improved University of Kentucky football team.

The main cause of the overall decrease in handle of 12% came from attrition in advance deposit wagering. The evidence for this assertion is threefold:  (1) while average daily attendance was down by 5.6% from the fall of 2013, on-track handle declined by only 3%; (2) advance deposit wagering accounted for nearly 86% of all-sources wagering; and (3) the vast majority of advance deposit wagering bettors were not affected by unseasonably cool and rainy weather.

Subsequent meets at Keeneland will reveal whether the disappointing autumn 2014 meet was an aberration.  What should focus the attention of Keeneland’s board of directors and top management is that wagering at a premier racetrack like Keeneland decreased by double digits in a month in which wagering at racetracks and ADW companies in the United States increased.

Copyright © 2014 Horse Racing Business