Maryland offers virtual finish line

The Laurel video board shows Maryland's new virtual finish line technology.
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Funny thing about horse racing, there's no actual wire in a wire-to-wire race. Heck, there's no line at the finish line.

That latter fact is changing in Maryland, however. At least on TV.

With the start of the fall meet at Laurel Park on Wednesday, the Maryland Jockey Club introduced a virtual finish line. Technology inserts an image of the finish line and other key distance markers on the racetrack surface during the live broadcast of each race.

That can only help viewers trying to judge those photo finishes before they become official. No longer do fans have to look for the small gap in the inner rail or the photo mirrors to spot the official end of a race.

"This is a new, creative visual aid for fans to see how close the wire is and if their horse has a chance to win,” Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas said in a news release Thursday. “We tested it at Pimlico during Preakness week and got positive feedback, so we decided to move forward.”

The technology used is similar to how first-down lines are inserted into football broadcasts or "virtual" ads are placed onto sporting venues where they don't actually exist. Horse racing broadcasts in England and Australia have inserted distance markers for years, but the technology remains rare in North American track feeds.

Maryland's system was developed by International Sound Corporation.

So, why is there no real finish line on the racetrack itself, a la NASCAR or track and field? Temperamental thoroughbreds are prone to jump at any shadow or unfamiliar sight on the track surface, so a line at the finish could be a hazard — for horses, jockeys and bettors.

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