Getting in on the ground floor of a new technology can often be a risky proposition.
When Keeneland decided to become the first American track to install the Trakus system back in 2006, the confidence in the product far outweighed any early trepidation.
"There was no hesitation," recalled G.D. Hieronymus, Keeneland's director of broadcast services. "We felt this would be accepted and also expected by the public to continue on at other racetracks. We were confident it was going to help us in many ways."
One of the most obvious assets of Trakus' data is that it can help determine how compromising a trip a horse really had and how much additional ground they will have to make up as a result of their starting position.
Information compiled during the last four Keeneland meets shows that saving ground over the track does indeed matter. At races longer than 6 furlongs on the Polytrack, winners are traveling on average about 4 fewer feet than their opponents — roughly half a length. Though the winners in 11⁄16-miles races are only traveling about a foot less, the narrowest of margins can mean the difference between a career-making victory or a bitter loss.
"On average, if you travel less ground you are winning races (at Keeneland) and to me that is significant mostly because there is so much darn anecdote that gets thrown about in the press box, in the grandstands, and in the simulcast," said Pat Cummings, business manager for Trakus. "Here we are putting facts and numbers to paper and saying let's see quantitatively what is really happening. First vs. second at a mile and a sixteenth is 1 foot but ... those 12 inches could mean the difference between a Grade I winner and a Grade I second."
A particularly revealing piece of data were the Jockey Efficiency Ratings over the last four Keeneland meets.
More notable than the middle numbers are those who rank in the top and bottom for both 6 furlongs and 11⁄16-miles. Given that data, it is little wonder James Graham has been among the top 10 riders at Keeneland in three of the last four meets while Calvin Borel's rail-hugging reputation doesn't hold so strong.
"There are always going to be individual outliers but to me, the extremities are the interesting parts of this." Cummings said. "We think this is the type of information that brings people inside as they continue to try and prognosticate how they want their horse ridden, what they expect from a jockey, or how much confidence they have in a particular jockey on a particular horse.
"We're putting the information out there. Some people say, 'Where has this been all my life,' and some people say 'That's great, thanks.'"