The introduction of Trakus several years ago was a significant advancement in timing and tracking of horses during a race. Instead of guessing how fast or how far a horse had run based on beaten lengths or trip notes, Trakus provided hard data to reconcile what we see on the track with what actually occurred during the race. For speed, pace or trip handicappers, Trakus quickly became an invaluable tool in breaking down the performance of any horse.
To date, several tracks have adopted the Trakus technology as their facilities - Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Del Mar, Gulfstream Park, Woodbine and Tampa Bay Downs - but, sadly, there are still major racing jurisdictions without the system. Santa Anita, Arlington, the Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, and all of the NYRA tracks are just a few of the major players that are still relying on teletimers, visual observation and beaten lengths adjustments to determine time and trip.
Saturday's Whitney Stakes at Saratoga is a perfect example of a race where a technology like Trakus (or something similar) is desperately needed to decipher what really happened during the race. While we can make assumptions and guesses based on the video and the charts, the data is anything but "hard".
During the Whitney, Ron the Greek was carried very wide while racing on the far turn and coming into the top of the stretch. The trip note in the result chart describes the action:
"RON THE GREEK quickly dropped back, saved ground on the first turn, lagged at the rear of the field, was asked leaving the backstretch, raced off the rail early on the far turn, shifted four wide near the three-eights pole, came under a right-handed whip outside the quarter-pole, swung seven wide into the stretch, rallied under continued right hand urging, drifted in while closing fast and was too late while just able to get the place." (emphasis added)
Compare Ron the Greek's trip with that of the winner, Fort Larned:
"FORT LARNED came away in good order, went three wide on the first turn, tracked the quick pace while on the outside, ranged up while three wide on the far turn, took the lead on his own courage outside the quarter-pole, edged clear under a left-handed whip in upper stretch, dropped to the inside while doing so, drew off into the final furlong, was flagged with a right-handed ship while well clear, had the rider begin to celebrate passing the sixteenth-pole, realized his lead might not be safe as once thought, threw one cross shortly thereafter then was hand ridden to the wire with a quickly diminishing margin." (emphasis added)
That might be one of the more colorful trip notes for a winning horse that you'll see in a chart. It also fails to provide a lot of clarity as to the effect that the trip of each horse had on the outcome of the race.
Immediately after the finish of the Whitney, the prevailing thoughts of many players is that the wide trip cost Ron the Greek the win. At a minimum, the trip cost him the "chance" at the win, it not the win itself. But Fort Larned didn't exactly save ground during much of the early stages of the race; he was three wide on the first turn and four wide on the second turn, according to the chart. Ron the Greek, while he was a ridiculous seven wide off the far turn (at minimum), was able to save ground along the rail in the early stages of the race. Did Ron the Greek lose more ground during his four wide/seven wide move on and off the turn, or was his ability to save ground early negate the wide trip late (when compared to Fort Larned racing wide on both turns)?
If Saratoga had Trakus, or some other similar technology, we would know how much ground Ron the Greek lost during the running of the Whitney and we would be in a better position to determine how significant that ground loss was. Instead, we are simply left to guess. Was he six, seven or eight wide on the turn? How wide was Fort Larned on the first turn, the back stretch and the far turn?