Photo Finish Images Shows Two Different Results, Sparking Controversy At Sandown

Before the advent of the photo finish camera, close finishes like the one in the ironically-named ‘Beaten By a Length’ Handicap at Sandown Saturday would have been called by three judges standing by the finish line, a practice understandably fraught with opportunities for the human eye to get it wrong. In the late 1930s, reliable photos finish technology became part of a racetrack’s set-up, the solution to the proverbial question of just who got a bare whisker or flared nostril in front. Nevertheless, however, the human element of the photo finish still remains a potential point of controversy, according to The Racing Post.

At Sandown Park in Surrey, U.K., Hurricane Ivor and Phoenix Star dueled through the final yards of the five-furlong handicap, flashing by that photo finish camera at the wire in what appears to be perfect synchronicity. The replay shows the two horses so close that a winner is difficult to discern. From the resulting photo, Sandown judge Jane Green declared Phoenix Star, the horse on the outside, the winner over Hurricane Ivor on the rail. The mirror image of the same photo showed a different result. Upon examination of both photos, the Sandown stewards nullified Green’s ruling and declared the race a dead heat.

How is it possible that the photo finish camera could have captured what appears to be two different images in literally the same instant? The answer lies in the mirror.

“The issue is the mirror image, which is out of alignment. That’s something that happens very rarely. You can see from the picture that the third and fourth don’t line up on the line on the mirror image, either” Shawn Parker, head of the British Horseracing Authority’s stewards, told the Racing Post. “We had to discard the mirror image and we couldn’t separate the two horses on the normal image, the actual photo, so it’s a dead-heat. We now need to hold an inquiry to determine why it happened.”

While RaceTech, the company responsible for photo finishes, attests to the proper alignment of the mirror and camera after an earlier inspection, it is possible that the mirror may have been knocked out of alignment afterwards. Bookmakers and bettors were frustrated with the miscalled photo finish, citing other issues with photo finishes at Sandown and other courses.

Read more at the Racing Post. 


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