12/07/2001 12:00AM

Racing's paths of improvement


Thoroughbreds have been racing in America since the 17th century, but, other than a few modifications to the rules of the sport, little changed until the 20 century.

In the past 100 years, technology has reshaped the sport from the breeding farm to the betting windows.

Trainers and veterinarians, who once relied on gut instinct to tell them if something was wrong with a horse, now have sophisticated imaging equipment that can detect even the smallest of hairline fractures.

Before the advent of mechanical starting gates, it was not unusual for horses to be at the post for 30 minutes or more for important races, with one false start after another.

Bettors, who once had to stand in line and bargain with bookmakers for the best odds, can now place bets at racetracks throughout the country in a matter of seconds from their homes.

Test your knowledge of some of the major technological breakthroughs that changed the sport.

1. In 1890, the Coney Island Jockey Club at Sheepshead Bay in New York was the first racecourse to hire a track photographer.

In addition to taking the usual pictures of horses and people, John C. Hammill was charged with standing at the finish line and taking pictures of the finish. The photos were very crude and the development of the plates took too long for this to be anything more than an experiment.

It wasn't until 1934 that the first reliable photo-finish camera appeared at the racetrack. By the end of the 1930's, nearly every major track had in place "the eye in the sky," as the cameras were dubbed because of their placement high in the grandstands overlooking the finish line.

What was the impact of the photo-finish cameras on the number of dead heats?

2. When the concept of the film patrol, which provided stewards with head-on and pan shots of all races, was first introduced in the late 1930's, jockeys were almost unanimous in their opposition to what they considered spying. Rough riding was seen as part of the racing game.

But as use of the film patrol became widespread in the late 1940's, jockeys came to realize that this was a tool that helped to prevent serious injuries and even death.

What was the first racetrack to install the film-patrol towers and cameras around the course?

3. Aluminum was named in 1808, and shortly after, a Dutch physicist created a few drops of the metal. Sixty years later, two tons had been produced and the precious commodity was selling for about $17 a pound, the same as silver.

While it would be well into the 20th century before lightweight aluminum horseshoes (racing plates) would become commonplace, this prominent owner and breeder of the 1870's through 1890's is generally credited with being the first to put aluminum shoes on a horse.

Name him.

4. On March 19, 1942, executives from racetracks around the country met in Chicago to form the Thoroughbred Racing Associations (TRA), a group dedicated to improving cooperation among the tracks.

Four years later, the TRA formed the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau to police the industry. Spencer Drayton, a prominent former FBI agent, was named to the head the TRPB. One of the bureau's first major steps was the implementation of a plan, submitted by one of Drayton's assistants, Edmund Coffey. It revolutionized racing.

What was Coffey's plan?

5. In 1979, American Totalisator introduced its TM 300 wagering system, which for the first time allowed multiple wagers of various denominations on one ticket as well as betting and cashing at the same window.

On June 7, 1890, the new technology allowed Hollywood Park to introduce the pick six to American racing.

Many Southern California racing fans had, however, been playing the pick six for year. Where did they do this?


1. In 1933, without photo-finish cameras in place, not a single dead heat was recorded at an American racetrack. (There was one in Canada.)

In 1936, with cameras in place at many tracks, there were 67 dead heats for win, 19 for place, and 29 for show.

In the early 20th century, dead heats were very unpopular with both owners and bettors. Placing judges were reluctant to call them, even though in many cases they were unsure of a finish.

One can only guess how many close finishes were wrongly called by the judges in the pre-camera era.

For most of the 1930's, much of the public was skeptical of the new photo-finish cameras. The equipment was not viewed as infallible. The biggest complaint was that the photos appeared to favor the outside horse - the one nearest to the lens.

Even noted Daily Racing Form writer John Hervey was unconvinced of the total reliability of the cameras when he wrote about them in 1936.

2. In 1945, Hollywood Park installed the first film-patrol towers and cameras.

The exposed film was lowered from the towers on wires and rushed to a lab under the stands where it could be developed in about 10 minutes.

Four years earlier, Hollywood Park had experimented with lightweight motion picture cameras affixed to the binoculars of eight patrol judges stationed around the track. That film was developed and spliced together for review the next day by the stewards.

In 1958, CBS for the first time used videotape to replay a race - the Preakness Stakes - for its television viewers. A decade later racetracks began replacing film with videotape.

3. Pierre Lorillard (1833-1901) is credited with introducing aluminum horseshoes. He contracted with Tiffany & Co., the famed New York jeweler, to manufacture the first plates for horses.

Aluminum was still a precious commodity in Lorillard's time, but by the 1930's, low-cost smelting processes lowered the price to 20 cents a pound and aluminum found widespread uses.

Lorillard was one of the most respected and successful owners and breeders of the last quarter of the 19th century. His most famous horse was Iroquois, the first American-bred to win England's Epsom Derby (1881).

In 1890 Lorillard called together some of the most prominent people in racing to form the Board of Control. Four years later, the board became The Jockey Club.

4. Following World War II, racing was hit with a number of highly publicized cases of ringers - horses masquerading as other horses. These cases threatened to undermine public confidence in the sport.

In April 1946, Edmund Coffey of the TRPB suggested tattooing registration numbers under the upper lip of all racehorses.

Fifty-five years later, the lip tattoo is still the No. 1 means of positively identifying a racehorse. Since tattooing began, ringers have been nearly eliminated.

5. Throughout the 1950's, 60's, and early 70's, Agua Caliente Race Track in Tijuana, Mexico - 20 miles from downtown San Diego - billed itself as "The Home of the Fabulous 5-10."

The 5-10 was the forerunner of the pick six. Bettors tried to pick the winners of races 5 through 10. Payoffs of $100,000 or more gained the track wide publicity.

Because no technology existed to tabulate the tickets, bettors wrote their number (with alternates in case of scratches) on 5-10 betting slips. The slips were validated when paid for at special mutuel windows, with the bettor retaining a carbon copy.

On the ground floor inside the grandstand, fans could watch through glass windows as a bevy of racetrack employees sorted the 5-10 slips by hand after each of the six races was run.