Drones used to oversee horse races for first time in North America

Overhead view could help judges detect cheating

Posted: December 03, 2016

View from a drone as it peers down on a horse race in London, Ont. during a trial Friday morning. (CBC)

The agency that governs horse racing in Ontario launched an experiment Friday that's aimed at keeping jockeys honest: camera-equipped drones that can spy on races from high overhead.

Friday morning's pilot project at London, Ont.'s Raceway at Western Fair District was a North-American first. But although it was deemed encouraging by the sports governing body — the  Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario — it did not go off without a hitch.

Glitch hindered test flight

A fickle internet connection meant the video signal being sent from the drone to the judges was too slow, so a memory card containing race footage had to be unloaded after the drone landed and carried by hand to the judge's booth atop the grandstand — a delay that could irk bettors,  said Brent Stone, the director of racing for the commission.


"That's one of the logistics we'll have to figure out," he said, but overall, the drone footage "was a big help to us."

"The drivers didn't notice the drone, and the horses themselves didn't notice the drone either," he said. "The footage we got today was encouraging."

A drone comes in for a landing after a test flight over a horse race in London, Ont. Friday. (CBC)

The trials took place during qualifying runs for upcoming standardbred races, in which a horse pulls a lightweight cart steered by a driver, so no fans or betting were allowed.


Stone said the advantage of using drones is that their cameras can zero in on horses and riders during a race and instantly catch infractions that could lead to disqualifications — things like jockeys illegally leaning into their competitors or whipping their mounts inappropriately, a practice known as "urging."

Brent Stone, director of racing for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, called the pilot project at a London, Ont. horse race Friday "encouraging," despite a technical glitch. (CBC)

Stone emphasized that the current system of monitoring races with stationary video cameras works well. But he said the commission wanted to see whether drones could make the sport even more transparent.

Lorne House, a driver who took part in the trials, gave the test the thumbs-up.

"Any angle the judges can get that's better for them can only help racing," he said.

Driver Lorne House said Friday's pilot project, in which a drone flew over a horse race, bothered neither him nor his horse. (CBC)

Stone said further tests will now be done on the province's other two brands of horse racing, thoroughbred and quarter horse racing, but there's no deadline for determining when, or if, drones will be introduced as a permanent fixture.

The commission hired DroneBoy, a Hamilton-area company that specializes in aerial cinematography, to provide two drones for Friday's pilot project.

The company's crew included a pilot, who controlled the drone's height at about 20 metres and speed, about 45 km/hr. A second crew member controlled the video feed.