Tracking race horses in realtime

UK: The upcoming Champions Day at Ascot in October – set to become Britain’s richest day of horse-racing – will mark the relaunch of the TurfTrax Tracking System which, in combination with graphic elements from Wurmsers Graphics, will attempt to explain some of the intricacies of the sport to the wider BBC audience.

The British Champions Series launches next year, with the aim of reinventing horse-racing in the UK and dramatically widening the sport’s appeal. Produced by Sunset + Vine, many of the races will be carried on the BBC and one of the key elements as far as the broadcaster is concerned is using graphics to help demystify the sport for a casual audience.

“Our aim now is to do everything realtime – speed, acceleration, vectors, sectional times, leader board and so on,” says Jeremy Tidy, MD at Wurmsers Graphics. “But the extra piece we really want to go with now is to be able to paint a picture of how the race was won and lost tactically using a touchscreen plasma pos- race. That way we can explain what some people think of as a really complicated sport.”

Exactly what graphics elements are to be used is still currently being finalised, but the key to their success is the XML feed of the data that’s generated to power them by the TurfTrax Tracking System. The TTS is an RF-based tracking system that uses proprietary technology based in the licence exempt 2.4GHz band. A network of receivers is deployed around the racecourse, which are connected via a local area network which is in turn connected to a central processing server. Small RFID tags are placed in the number cloths of each horse, which chirp four times a second and transmit encrypted signals to the network of receivers.

Coupled with additional reference signals from fixed-location tags, all this data is transmitted to the central processing server, which refers to a detailed model of the racecourse and provides a welter of statistics for every chirp. This includes running order, current speed, average speed, the margin between horses, sectional time, distance covered and remaining, cumulative time and acceleration.

If it sounds familiar, it’s because it was used on Channel 4 racing between 2004 and 2008, but, as TurfTrax’ Mike Maher admits, the business model wasn’t quite right. “When we came off course there was a general consensus that it was a good thing, but maybe the timing wasn’t quite right. We’ve been looking at when to relaunch and the Champions Series is an obvious fit.

“We had some independent testing done by the Structure and Motion Laboratory at the Royal Veterinary College and they said we’re accurate to between 30 and 50cm,” he continues. “We’ve invested an awful lot of money to get to that level of accuracy too and that, along with getting the data onscreen in realtime, is what we’ve aimed for.”

The key now is presentation and taking all that information and turning it into compelling graphics that tell the story of the race, which is where Wurmsers comes in. “We will be combining our IT skills and horse-racing knowledge into creating a powerful way of presenting that data,” says Tidy.

Testing is ongoing, with a full course test scheduled for an Ascot meeting on 30 September ahead of the Champion’s Day itself on the 15th.

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