And the Race is On

April 23, 2012

That’s the visceral visual experience that a team of University of Arizona students captures with the new jockey cam – a smart helmet that streams real-time video and puts viewers right in the saddle.

The new technology, which they’ve launched under the company name of EquiSight, was the brainchild of David P. Matt and Kenleigh Hobby, who met as freshman at the University of Arizona’s one-of-a-kind Race Track Industry Program founded in 1973 within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. They shared a passion for horses and snowboarding.

Four years later, the seniors also share a business venture that is changing the way the world views horseracing. It’s called EquiSight.

160,000 YouTube Views

To date EquiSight has filmed more than 100 videos that have attracted 160,000 YouTube views – plus the attention of ESPN, the Ireland Tourism Board, racetracks around the world and venture capital investors.

The two students knew that to graduate they would need a senior capstone project that addressed a pressing issue in the racing industry. They realized “the biggest problem with this sport is it is still stuck in the binocular era,” Hobby said. Other sports use 21st century technology to create high-impact video content. Why not horse racing?

In an era of computers, video games, tablet technology and smart phones, surely they could bring horseracing out of the age of binoculars and into split-second high-def video action. Their goal is to revolutionize the way people experience the horse race – energizing current enthusiasts and engaging the next generation of fans.

“This is the equivalent of seeing the race through the jockeys’ goggles. You simply can’t get any closer to the action than this,” Hobby said.

From Concept to Reality

In less than a year their idea went from concept to tracks across the country – thanks to an array of UA connections. They include a door-opening network of UA alumni in the racing industry, a team of students from the College of Engineering who developed the jockey cam technology, a mentor at the Eller College who provided patent advice and the Arizona Center for Innovation, the business incubator where the co-founders launched EquiSight.

In December of 2011 they presented their interactive multimedia video experience to more than 600 racing and gaming executives at the 38th Annual Symposium on Racing and Gaming in Tucson. In February 2012 they filmed 30 jockey-cam videos at prestigious race tracks and training centers on the East Coast. In March 2012 Wasabi Ventures Portfolio selected EquiSight to receive venture capital support.

“We’ve had unsolicited emails from people all over the world. Owners, trainers, jockeys, race tracks in Australia Canada, Mexico and Argentina,” Matt said. “The Ireland Tourism Board bought 15 seconds of our footage to use for a visit-the-island commercial. Breeder’s Cup and ESPN have used our footage.”

Split-Second Decisions at 35 mph

“Jockeys found this very important. They’re making split second decisions at 35 mph. They can replay and watch how they ride,” Hobby said, seeing the potential for this technology beyond racing. “We’re working every angle we can.”

Ultimately sports fans could watch a race from the starting gate, switch horses mid stride and do so from anywhere in the world. The jockey cam could be readily adapted for other sports – so baseball fans could watch as the batter swings and hits, then switch to the second-base cam and view the catch.

EquiSight now holds three provisional patents. The company also recently inked an agreement with an engineering design firm to explore the potential application of helmet-cam technology for the military and law enforcement.

Passion for Horses & Racing

Matt grew up with horses in Montana. Both his grandfather and father were jockeys. Now his dad is a trainer at Turf Paradise in Phoenix during the racing season and at the family ranch in the off season. A Native American, he sees the potential for combining horse racing with Indian gaming casinos. He owns several horses.

Hobby became “a fan passionate about this beautiful sport” when his family moved to California and discovered the Del Mar Race Track “where the turf meets the surf.” He traveled far and wide to see races. He was scuba instructor and a videographer for ski resorts. Advertisements for the widely respected UA racing industry program brought him to campus. He talked with faculty and sat in on a class. “I realized wow this is something I want to do.” He just bought two race horses that Matt’s dad is training.

Laser Focused

Hobby and Matt’s senior project took off like a runaway horse.

Following every lead totally consumed them. Now, with EquiSight fairly well launched, they are now laser focused on earning their diplomas. “We’ve loaded up on classes this summer. This degree is something we need. We’ve been working hard at that.”

By next fall they’ll have found their stride – coursework completed, action plans in place.

Then it’s off to the races.

Learn more about the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.