The timer for horse races in the United States starts not when the horses break from the gate but when the first horse passes a pole 50 to 60 feet or so beyond it. It is from this pole to the finish line that the distance of the race is measured as well.
Lusky essentially watched the 1973 Preakness backward, and “reverse-engineered the times,” starting the clock at the finish and seeing where the horses were when the time had elapsed. Trying the initial clocking of 1:55, he found that it went back so far that Secretariat’s “rear end was still in the gate,” rather than near the 1 3/16-mile pole, where the clock should have started. It seemed that the automatic timer had incorrectly started when the gate opened.
“Videotape is a stopwatch,” Lusky said. There are 29.97 frames per second and “it can’t be modified, or it won’t work.” So Lusky counted the number of frames in the race and divided by 29.97. Again, this seemed to indicate a faster time.
Not only that, but Lusky began to realize that even 1:53 2/5, the fastest time anyone had suggested, might be too slow.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Here is an interesting behind-the-scenes account of the Secretariat Preakness timer controversy, which happened almost immediately after the race in 1973: