Behind the Curtain – Photo Finishes and Placing Judges

by Ed Meyer

posted on March 9, 2023 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | Comments Off on Behind the Curtain – Photo Finishes and Placing Judges

Horses thunder home and the wire is coming closer with every single stride. The crescendo of emotions is building like holding water back from the Hoover Dam. The excitement is building and the horses are nearing the wire. It’s going to be a close one, and the winner is…

Players waited with bated breath to cash a ticket, or have expensive stationery moments away. The photo sign gleams neon-red, and with each passing second seems like a small eternity of waiting for the mega-million balls to come rolling out. I digress. – The light goes off, and the decision has been posted on the board or matrix. – It’s final unless the stewards have a question about the running of the race. – Some will be high-fiving and others will curse loudly blaming everyone except the dog at home. But, not to worry. I’m going to give you a glimpse from behind the curtain of the decisions that are made high up on the upper floor. Without further delay, here’s what happens in the two minutes that have a weighty decision on how the gamblers will feel.

I have worked at five tracks and been in the placing/photo finish rooms during the course of the race. I will not speak once the horses load into the gate while the three placing judges countdown how many horses are still left to be loaded. – The photo operator has a trigger (like a toy gun) used as a backup timing start to what is in place with sensors and timing posts around the track for an up-to-the-milli-second time as soon as the gates spring open.

So, the horses are sent on their way. – One placing judge works the computer board which posts the top four leading the race. The other two shout-out numbers are to be typed into the board and changed frequently all the way to the 1/4 pole as we prepare to take down the entire correct number of finishers of the field. – The lights for the photo will be turned on at the 3/8 pole, and the photo finish operator has a plunger in his hand that when depressed and held will capture every horse that crosses the line. During the final process, there are no words spoken to ensure the three placing judges have an exact view from the finish line of the field. – The three judges ensure we will have a consensus vote, as we check against the photo finish operator’s televised view of the race crossing the wire. – The photo finish is used merely as an aid, and the decision of the three judges determines the official order of finish.

As the horses cross the line, judges quietly write down every horse as they see it cross the finish line. The room is quiet as a mouse pissing on cotton. – We convene to compare against the photo finish video and then read back one at a time who we see. – This is the part where the majority decisions rule, and in the event of a dead heat, we double down on looking at every ounce of separation to ensure the separation of finish. After all, this may be one of the most important aspects of the race order while down the hall three stewards examine the race with a laser-focused eye for any infraction during the race.

While some have their own opinion of what goes on during the race, this is what I have taken part in and watched during the running of the race. – For the minutes for each race worked, is an important part of the game where we want the integrity of the finish to be exact.

As I pulled back the curtain to let you inside what takes place in the judges’ stand, it is only a glimpse of what takes place as soon as the horses cross the wire. – Over the course of the year there will be many finishes called into question and decisions of the stewards haggled with. But, the integrity and transparency of the game are of top importance and all judges involved take their position very seriously. After all, there are many watching and wondering what goes on behind the curtains and we want you to fully understand what is taking place.