John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to MSNBC.com, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011


By Any Measure, Trakus a Winner


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, December 14, 2011—There was an interesting online interview last week with Pat Cummings, the business manager of Trakus, without question the best technological advance made to benefit the Thoroughbred industry and its fans this Millennium.

In the piece, Cummings enumerated the benefits of the technology which are myriad: Races easier to follow for professional and novice alike; getting race watchers engaged at a deeper level; a likely favorable impact on handle.

In our view, Trakus makes it possible to objectify the subjective art of trip handicapping, possibly its greatest benefit to serious horseplayers. Cummings then gave a trip handicapping example of two horses emerging from the same race.

One had traveled 50 feet farther than the rival that saved ground. Since 50 feet approximates six lengths, Cummings reasoned correctly that should prove the difference the next time these horses meet, all other factors being equal.

Traditional trip handicappers write their observations into a track program then later review and amplify those notes in replay.

Wouldn’t it be nice, however, if weekend warriors, whose life responsibilities do not allow time for watching replay after replay, could know precisely how far each horse ran in any given race, an instant trip note?

Whatever the model, the figures of speed handicappers would improve dramatically using Trakus data. A player who relies on his numbers and having greater confidence in his personal system would become a better--and bigger--bettor. When the player wins, the industry wins.

Hopefully it will not be too long before beaten lengths are replaced by running time for every horse at each point of call. No more hand calculation of fractions. For this to happen, of course, Trakus would need to be in place everywhere. What are the odds?

Prior to relying on speed figures as the basis of my personal handicapping, making and transcribing trip notes into result charts was my life. Consequently, I became a good race watcher. “But who the hell is that moving up between horses?” I often wondered several times a day. With Trakus, I know instantly and with certitude.

Courtesy of Gulfstream Park this year players can enjoy race watching in a traditional context because the track integrates silks into the in-race graphics. Other tracks have used different features, such as ground lost and ground saved by each horse in relation to the race winner.

Either way, Equibase chart callers who create past-performance data now have another tool from which charts and footnotes can be drafted. But no method is completely perfect.

For one, there are discrepancies in running times. Traditionally racing has used a beam-breaking approach which is fine but also subject to the vagaries of gate placement. Improvements have been made in this area, including noting the precise number of feet from starting gate to timing pole.

However, Trakus uses computer chips placed in saddle towels. But the chips are not always placed precisely in the same spot. On balance, the system provides a more precise measure. But the differences between the two methods can be stark, as much as a full second in some cases. So apples must be compared to other apples.

Objections to the new system are largely a matter of style and taste. Some fans have complained the “chicklets” appearing beneath the actual race video is a distraction, turning colorful live racing action into a video game.

Contrarily, most neophytes won’t care and will probably decide to enjoy the live action for the spectacle it is. And nothing says that a veteran player couldn’t watch a live race and the replay via Trakus.

In an era when nearly 90 percent of the handle is generated off track, racing already is a video game for many. Simulcast regulars no longer need to sit in the front row to follow the action and, more importantly, can see their horse in relation to other horses without having to pan through the field.

The new technology allows fans to have fun beyond the betting vehicle. Tampa Bay Downs and Churchill Downs have shown a jockey’s view of a race in virtual replay. Keeneland, Woodbine and Del Mar include ground data in their replay presentations.

A friend asked the other day how long do I think it will be before New York tracks switch to a Trakus presentation.

I said I didn’t know, but that it was a big State Racing & Wagering Board press-release deal when video streaming was allowed to continue, that bettors still can’t make a superfecta play in a race with a coupled entry or 50-Cent trifectas at a simulcast track that allows it.

Strictly guessing for 2012, I’d made Belmont Park 10-1; Saratoga, even money.

Written by John Pricci

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