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A photo finish is used when track officials cannot declare the finishing positions of a horse race because two or more horses have crossed the line too close together.
The winner and places can usually be identified by the naked eye, however when this is not possible, a camera pointed at the finish line is consulted.
For races run over five furlongs to more than four miles it is remarkable how many races have close finishes.
As well as the typical winner bet, it is possible with some bookmakers to bet on the total winning distances for a meeting, and the outcome of a photo finish. Distances between horses at the finishing line are on average greater in National Hunt racing than flat racing, while jump races are generally run over longer distances and horses may fall at the obstacles. That means there are more photo finishes in flat racing than jump racing.
Flat horses run at a faster speed than jumps horses, so separating then in a close finish can be more difficult. When a photo finish is announced, some bookmakers will offer odds on the outcome. These odds can fluctuate as the image is reviewed.
Latest technology allows horses in a photo finish to be separated by the pixel, but there are still races in which a winner cannot be identified. In that instance the judge will declare a dead heat and the stakes are split between the two or more horses involved.