Scone Race Club – First in Photo Finish

Scone Race Club – First in Photo Finish


John A. Smith

14 Baringa Street

WARANA Q. 4575

Phone: (074) 93-2593

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(Scone can possibly lay claim to being the first country race club in Australia to record photo finishes in its turf events. The featured image shows how far we progressed in almost 30 years?)

Just prior to 1947 a Sydney importer, Mr J Farren Price who ran a watch and clock business, brought out a camera from Switzerland which showed promise of removing any doubt about close finishes on racecourses.

The camera was a Bolex Palliard 16mm movie outfit into which was built a stopwatch and prism lenses which projected the face of the watch showing the time on each frame of film as horses were pictured when they finished past the winning post.

It was necessary for the camera’s operator to be in a position in the judge’s box to see the starter lower his flag and send the field on its way. As the flag was dropped the camera clock was activated by the operator who then waited until the field came into view in the straight. As the leading horses headed for the winning post about 50 yards away the camera film was set in motion with the lens fixed on the winning post until the last horse had gone past.

When the film was developed a negative was produced on which 60 frames of pictures per second were exposed. Actually, the finish of the race was recorded in slow motion with the time taken showing on each frame. By this method the time of every horse showed up as it passed the post.

It was intended that the film be processed quickly and dried. Each individual picture frame could be examined under a magnifying glass and. If the finish was extremely close an enlargement could be blown p to show which horse was the winner; or, as could happen, a dead heat may have resulted.

The camera was shown to me by Mr Doug Robertson, then President of the Scone Race Club and I was asked if the outfit could be adapted for trial use at the first meeting to be held on White Park Course in 1947.

As there were no darkroom facilities built onto the judge’s box whereby film could be processed it would have been necessary for me to leave the course and hurry off to a darkroom at “The Advocate”; a trip that would have taken too long to process the film and again return to the course with the photo-finish negatives.

I constructed a small darkroom outfit using a standard sized kerosene case which made it light-proof and contained a shelf in the centre on which to place the camera prior to removing the exposed film. The front was made light-proof with heavy canvas, with two canvas sleeves elastic at the elbows allowing the hands to to enter the darkened box. On the bottom was plastic container for developer and a second one for fixing solution. The box outfit was placed on a chair beneath the judges’ box together with a bucket of clean water for washing the film.

Everything went well for the first race. The clock was set in motion when the starter dropped the flag. The film began its run when the leaders were in close proximity to the winning post. There were no problems unloading the exposed film from the camera inside the portable dark-box and the short length of film was processed in around six minutes before being removed and given a quick film rinse in a bucket of water. The entire operation, from go-to-whoa before the film was in the judge’s hands was around 10 minutes.

On the day there were no close finishes and no necessity for a negative frame to decide the winner. However, it was an interesting exercise as it revealed the fact that for a camera system to be effective by producing a negative and print within a reasonably short time a properly equipped dark room complete with developing and enlarging facilities would be absolutely necessary. To make a black and white enlargement from a finish off a 16mm single frame negative would take all of 15 minutes at the least, a delay which was not considered reasonable before the winner and placegetters’ numbers could be hoisted. Also, to construct a proper darkroom with equipment would have been too costly.

The camera was handed back to Mr. Robertson at the end of the day, and I did not hear of any country race club embodying this form of obtaining photo finish results after the experience gained at the Scone meeting.

John A. Smith

Former photographer for the “Scone Advocate” until 1956


(Transcribed from the original hand typed letter 17/09/2023 by WPH)