Simulator ready to roll at Hall of Fame

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“I feel like Mike Smith up here,” laughed retired jockey and trainer Robbie Davis, as he reached down to stroke his mount’s neck last week in Saratoga. “Good girl, Songbird. Is that what he says?”

Davis rode 3,382 horses to victories and earned more than $115.7 million in purses, but this ride had a bit different engine than the horsepower he is accustomed to steering around a track. Davis sat in the irons of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame’s latest exhibit – an interactive racehorse simulator that opened to the public last Friday.

Made possible through funding from Charlotte Weber and The Live Oak Foundation and a grant from the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust, the “Ready to Ride!” simulator has been designed to perfect one’s position and tactics while racing, allowing the jockey to race against other horses on the screen. Created by Racewood, the simulator emulates Saratoga Race Course and other tracks and tests the rider’s balance, race strategy and timing.

Davis came out Thursday to show a small group of media and others the simulator. He swung his right leg over the simulator, cranked up the stirrup leathers and tightened his grip on the reins. Heels sunk, hip closed, he assumed his galloping position and pressed his knuckles into the horse’s neck. Eyes glued to the screen, peeking through two ears and the glorious main track of Saratoga ahead, the simulator sprung beneath him and took off. Clicking and chirping, rocking with its movement, Davis careened around the simulator’s track and finished a strong second.

“I had a blast,” said Davis, pumping his fist victoriously towards the ceiling. “It jumps right under you and takes right off and you really feel it moving. Like wow, I’ve got to have a name for it or call it something because it was so real.”

Equine racing simulators are being used as training tools for professionals and training schools throughout the world, and will now allow the public to get a taste of the galloping a racehorse – a thrilling blend of control and chaos thundering below.

“The riders would be able to get an idea of if you want to be a rider or if you don’t,” said Davis. “Of course, it’s about 50 percent of what it really is without getting on a live animal, but for therapy and young riders it’s a big step forward.”