When is it a dead heat?

September 21st, 2017

Here is a simple question: What is a dead heat? According the Cambridge English Dictionary, it is “a race in which two or more competitors finish at exactly the same time: The two horses finished in a dead heat.”

But that still doesn’t answer the question. How do we know two (or more) horses finished at exactly the same time? The photo finish camera is the obvious answer but there still needs to be placing judges to determine the results of the photo. So, it is not completely objective and the results can be interpreted subjectively.

On Sunday at Belmont Park in race 8, NEVESIAN SKY (Sky Mesa) was the strong favorite at 4-to-5 and once he found running room along the inside, the race was over. I needed YUMMY BEAR (Sidney’s Candy) at 14-to-1 to complete a cold exacta but WITH EXULTATION (Kitten’s Joy) was gaining ground with every stride and it looked like he nailed Yummy Bear at the wire for second.

Track announcer Larry Colmus said, “it’s going to be tight for second and it looked like With Exultation in the photo over Yummy Bear.” The replay looked like With Exultation got second but then they showed a ground-level angle of the finish line and maybe, Yummy Bear had his nose way down at the wire.

It took over five minutes to announce the official order of finish and my group was saying either a dead heat or With Exultation got second. I was the only one who thought Yummy Bear might have been second so when they made the race official, it meant a $32 exacta for me that I would have gladly taken half that with a dead heat.

Once they showed all the replays, the winning photo was showed and sure enough, Yummy Bear was about an inch ahead at the wire. As close as it was, it was decisive.

But then on Wednesday in race 4, we had a finish even closer and this is where I wonder whether the result should just be called a dead heat if it is that close.

Longshots TERRASOLE (Believeinmenow) and HAY FIELD (Haynesfield) battled through the lane while exchanging bumps. They hit the wire together and it was impossible to determine a winner. Larry Colmus said, “Oh, that’s tight at the finish.” And, it was.

Five minutes later, the race was declared official and Terrasole was the winner by what the Equibase chart caller said was “by the curve of her nostrils.”

After the two replays were shown, the winning photo was shown but this time, you could not see any discernible margin. It looked like a dead heat to us so everyone was left confused.

Two things that the industry needs to do. First, when the placing judges need a blown-up image of the photo to decide if there was a winner, the simulcast feed needs to show us the blown-up image. Otherwise, unless we are watching on a high-definition feed on a high-definition monitor, it sure looks like a dead heat to us.

By the way, it would also be nice to see the mirror-image of the winning photo like racetracks used to show. Just saying.

Second, and this is the point of the column, if a race is that close why not just call it a dead heat? I have covered this before when the winner of the Melbourne Cup (G1) won by a pixel. Now that technology is so precise, do we really need to break it down to a thousandth of an inch to declare somebody won or can we just say that the race is so close, it’s a dead heat?

Years ago, it would have been a dead heat since the technology was not available to separate horses like we can do now. But if a race is as close as Belmont’s 4th race was, the best call is a dead heat. If not, it begins to raise the question of what if one track has better technology than another track? The track with the better technology will not have a dead heat but the other track won’t since the horses are inseparable at the wire?

Technology is great but its misuse is ruining other sports. Just watch a baseball or football game and the process of replay challenges to judgement calls on the field. I am not advocating to go back to the old days with three placing judges watching and deciding the finish with no technology but anything as close as Belmont Park’s 4th race on Wednesday deserves to be a dead heat.

Dick Powell covers NYRA tracks for the Brisnet.com Daily Selections