Wearable Technology in Horse Racing: Gaining an Edge on the Competition

Profile Picture: Andrew Armstrong

August 24th, 2015

mediaIn modern sports, the use of wearable technology to help optimize athlete performance has become almost commonplace. In September of 2014, The Dallas Morning News reported that the NBA's Dallas Mavericks had begun not only wearing Readiband sleep-monitoring watches at night, but also wearing Catapult Optimeye tracking devices between their shoulder blades during trainings. Referred to as a bio-analytics platform, the Optimeye technology is designed to monitor the so-called “training loads” placed on player’s bodies by emitting “real-time data on accelerations, decelerations, changes of direction and jumping (height and frequency).”

Wearable devices have been also used by runners for years to track distance, steps, calories, and other basic metrics. However, increasingly more sophisticated devices are now oming to market at an impressive pace. Tech Cocktail recently reported on a new product from Kinematix known as Tune, which purportedly can analyze running technique and then recommend a customized exercise plan that is designed to improve exactly the movements and muscles necessary to improve upon technical flaws.

Looking at both the Optimeye and Tune devices, these products reflect the growing consensus that greater insight into heart rate, stride length, muscle strain, and other bio-metrics during exercise allows both professional and recreational athletes to train more efficiently and can help prevent injuries.

The information gap in horse racing

In thoroughbred racing, horses' bodies are pushed to the limit, and unfortunately injuries still occur too often as a result. According to The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, although the rate of fatalities has declined since 2009, the incidence of fatal injury in 2014 was still 1.89 per 1,000 starts. Additionally, occurrences of tendonitis, strained ligaments, splints, osselets, fractures, or bone chips can derail entire seasons or even careers for aspiring thoroughbreds. With such high stakes, jockeys and trainers are placed in the difficult position of balancing the desire to maximize speed with the need to avoid injury. With limited or imperfect data available, racing professionals are left to rely on their instincts to gauge when they can push harder on their thoroughbred versus when they need to ease off.

Thankfully, a former jockey and current horse trainer in Australia by the name of Andrew Stuart is working to bridge this information gap in horse racing. After partnering with world-renowned equine researchers, and spending several years doing testing and product development, he launched the E-Trakka® system for equine fitness monitoring. We caught up with Mr. Stuart to discuss his innovation, and got his insights into an exciting product that has the potential to change the face of thoroughbred training as we know it:

Interview with horse racing wearable technology innovator Andrew Stuart

What kind of feedback have you received from trainer’s with respect to how your product has helped them to improve the training regimens for their thoroughbreds?

We have received exceptional feedback from E-Trakka users, E-Trakka has now recorded about 30,000 readings and amongst them are many case studies that show the value of monitoring the equine athlete “closer” than would usually be possible. Trainers are able to identify ability, fitness, lameness and suitable race distances via the E-Trakka system. Currently the industry in general is not aware of the results a relative few have had but the knowledge is advancing. Scenic Blast became the Australian horse of the year in 2009 because the trainer used the E-Trakka information. Scenic Blast was bred to be a stayer but his E-Trakka readings showed otherwise. Not only that the E-Trakka was used to specifically adjust his training routine to ensure a higher level of fitness.

Do you anticipate that increased adoption of wearable technology such as yours will improve safety in horse racing?

It most definitely will and already has on many occasions. It helps the safety of racing by firstly reducing the amount of lame, sick and diseased horses going to the races, and then helps to ensure the racehorse is better conditioned and more likely in a suitable class and distance. Better prepared horses mean less chance of severe fatigue which can cause interference or at worst collapse of the equine athlete.

[Click on the thumbnails below to view two examples of E-Trakka readings. The one on the left is a healthy 4-year-old mare, while the one on the right is from a 2-year-old filly who was discovered to be sick from a virus and was thankfully prevented from racing after it's readings were viewed.]



Sick reading.


In your opinion, how would having access to advanced metrics such as heart rate and stride length potentially help bettors make more informed decisions when wagering on races?

Truly I am not too sure the authorities would want that to happen. If I put E-Trakka on every runner in a race I could most likely scratch half the field as having virtually no or very limited chance of performing. If there were standout readings, I would most likely pick the most competitive three and then the usual race influences would come into play. The general public would also need to learn a fair bit about sports science and there are always many other factors that come into play. I see the best way forward (with respect to helping the betting public) as showing them that the industry does care about the health and well-being of the athletes, resulting in more public trust in knowing that the racing stock are healthy and in condition to produce their best performance.

Has your product gained traction in the United States so far? If so, can you share any of the stables/trainers you are working with now?

Yes we have been gaining traction in the United States but unfortunately the early trainers using it there wish to keep it low key at the moment. Tizdejavu and Slews Tizzy were the first USA graded stakes success stories when trained by Dr Greg Fox (a vet) 4-5 years ago.

With better data from biometrics and advanced wearable technology, it’s clear that horse racing can be safer and more competitive than ever. Ensuring that lame, sick, or diseased horses are more likely to be identified and prevented from competing in races would be an overwhelmingly positive outcome. Furthermore, discovering the untapped potential in horses such as Scenic Blast, and ensuring that such top thoroughbreds are maximizing the efficiency of their trainings would almost assuredly lead to more competitive fields in future races. Even if it’s a fantasy to hope for access to in-depth biometric data for wagering purposes, knowing that the technology is there to ensure the highest levels of safety and performance is great for the sport. Learn more about E-Trakka at http://www.etrakka.com.au/