Photofinish is a vital part of RaceTech’s heritage and has a major role in its future, as technology becomes ever more sophisticated to determine an outright winner. The function of Photofinish technology is to take a replicable image of the exact moment at the finish line, so that there is pictorial evidence of the winner.
RaceTech has long been a world leader in the field of photofinish technology. It is with the photofinish that the company began, and it remains in the vanguard of research and development of a process crucially important to other sports as well as horse racing: technology based on the racing model has long been in operation at top athletics meetings, including the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.
The photofinish has been an integral part of the racing and betting experience for decades, and the technology is constantly evolving. Time was when punters would have to endure an agonising few minutes suspended in that frozen state before the result was announced. Today the process is so efficient and slick that the verdict is given within seconds.
The ability to provide an objective and rapid pronouncement about which horse’s nose is in front on the line is a basic requirement of modern racing – and not just to still the beating hearts of connections and punters: the rate of turnover in betting shops, claim the bookmakers, depends on punters knowing their fate as quickly as possible, so that those who have won can reinvest without delay and those who have lost can adjust their staking plan for the next race. Although the photofinish is where RaceTech began life back in the 1940s, the modern procedure for photographing horses as they cross the finish line is a far cry from the early methods, and it is only comparatively recently that the fully computerised photofinish system – Scan-O-Vision – has been in widespread use.
The fundamental principle is the same as before – photographing runners as they pass through a very narrow field of vision – but the technology, once based around a spool of continuous moving film, is now state-of-the-art. Two digital cameras are fixed in place in the photofinish booth high in the stand – one to cover the whole width of the track and the other to focus on that part of the course furthest away from the camera in order to make maximum use of the strip of mirror (1800 mm x 150 mm) attached to the winning post. This allows the Judge to see what is happening from the far side of the course if the horses are so close together that the view from the Judge’s box does not afford enough information.
The pictures these cameras produce are made up of millions of tiny dots known as ‘pixels’, and a vertical line of these dots photographs the activity on the winning line up to 2,000 times a second, building up the photofinish picture as the horses go through.