Yonkers Raceway Trots Toward HD

By Andrew Lippe
Empire City at Yonkers Raceway is continuing to push the boundaries of HD technology, becoming the first racetrack to establish a digital uplink, with Roberts Communications Networks, the distributor for simulcasting. “Our core is high-definition, but we are now downconverting to SD,” says broadcast director Michael Rooney for the Raceway. RCN built an SD uplink truck for Yonkers because it does not distribute HD feeds. “The problem is, a lot of tracks just do not have the money to do HD and receive it,” says Rooney.
The Rooney family owns the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Palm Beach Kennel Club located in Palm Beach, FL, along with Empire City at Yonkers Raceway. The Rooneys have continued to make the Raceway as technically savvy as possible. “We had our hands on quad-video tape machines when only the networks had those at the time,” says Rooney.
He was instrumental in construction of the control room at Yonkers Raceway as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ coaching control room located at the team’s practice facility on the South Side of Pittsburgh. “The important thing was to build our infrastructure and our core in a multi-definition format,” says Rooney. “So when the rest of the world catches up we will be ready within a day to go full HD.”
Yonkers Raceway’s HD production is based around a manned Ikegami HDL-40 HD camera. They use two robotic SD Panasonic cameras are used for judges and cut-a-way shots and two Sony handheld HDV cameras are also on hand. The control room features both HD and SD ROSS Synergy 1 multi-definition switchers and Ross routers. The HD gear was installed when Empire City at Yonkers Raceway reopened in 2006.
Rooney helped install 300 flat-panel displays at Yonkers Raceway. They are all NTSC SD but in the bar areas and simulcast areas they can receive HD (some are also receiving DirecTV’s HDTV for sporting events that provide HD feeds. A Christi digital projection system was recently added to showcase the video from the Ikegami main camera.
NY State Video Lottery Terminals were also added as part of a $300 million renovation to generate revenue for the racetrack. Empire City at Yonkers Raceway has been approved to operate 7,500 terminals but currently has 5,500 operating. Video-gaming has opened many opportunities for research and development at this and many other racetracks.
Rooney is exploring many technical upgrades at Yonkers. This includes distribution over the Web as well as adding an array of multi-synced cameras for better accuracy on the race paths. He is also learning how to fly radio-controlled helicopters and may eventually put cameras on those to do flyovers before a race.
“I would like to do a show similar to what you would see with NASCAR,” adds Rooney. “I want more cameras. I need a finish-line camera, more paddock cameras, and a camera I could bury in the dirt.”
He hopes to establish a Yonkers TV-production studio, which could be used to profile the drivers. He also wants to provide interactive kiosks on the racers and is continually exploring technologies that give more data on what happens in a race.
“We are looking into having transponders on the horses that, after every furlong, would tell you the horses’ time,” adds Rooney. “This would be the first [of its kind] in the United States.”
Keeneland racetrack in Lexington, KY are currently producing HD telecasts of several of their races. The
racetrack built it owns production center with

Grass Valley HD cameras and switchers and debuted in HD on October 3.

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