JC / Railbird

Data

Finding a Way

From Jay Bergman’s remembrance of Sports Eye founder Jack Cohen:

What was so impressive about Mr. Cohen to me was his ability to get around obstacles in his way. At the forefront of his effort to put out past performances in Sports Eye, his publication that had only given entries, results and selections, was an obstacle called the track program. The program printed for the tracks at Roosevelt and Yonkers was a product of Doc Robbins. That product was a monopoly of sorts and Mr. Cohen had to figure out how to get access to information in advance of race day in order to provide “his version” of past performances in a timely fashion. Ultimately what he did was pay off Robbins’ employees to provide him a minimal amount of information that would allow for his staff to connect-the-dots and provide a competitive product.

I love these stories of people hustling to get around data monopolies, even if they’re all from decades ago, and racing data is now stagnant.

Figuring

The March edition of HANA’s monthly newsletter is now out, and it includes two great interviews, one with jockey Julien Leparoux, and the other with Dana Byerly talking about Horse Racing Data Sets, the site she launched last month for sharing data. I’m biased, but HRDS is swiftly becoming a good, useful resource — the most recent addition to the site is a spreadsheet from Brisnet containing 25 years of winning speed and class ratings, which I’ve just begun exploring for possible Kentucky Derby implications.

Somewhat related: TimeformUS posted their winning figures for the last five years of Triple Crown race preps. You can find Beyer speed figures for the same races since 2010 in the Derby prep schedule (the column labeled “BSF”).

HANA’s newsletter also includes a short primer on churn, which Lonnie Goldfeder recommends setting a goal for each day you play. Goldfeder’s latest column at Daily Racing Form is about staying sharp; it’s a reminder that wagering, like any discipline, requires a commitment to practice.

Data Points

Marketing horse racing through its rich data is on the agenda for the 2013 UA-RTIP Symposium on Racing and Gaming:

New Ways to Look at Numbers
Sports fans are traditionally a group of people who have an insatiable hunger for facts, figures and statistics. Racing is a sport that is data rich but that attribute hasn’t been marketed. Panelists look at new data that could be presented to the racing audience, new ways to present the information we currently provide as well as how all of it can be used to attract new customers and increase the frequency of current players.

It’s also the subject of Thorotrends’ call to “release the data,” which I hope the Symposium data panelists will read before they arrive in Arizona, along with everything Superterrific has gathered on the issue of freeing racing data from paywalls and PDFs in her latest on Exacta-mundo.

Making data more available can only help attract more horseplayers. I’ve believed so for as long as I’ve been a racing fan, and have only been confirmed in that belief watching other sports move ahead with data, whether in creating APIs, building it into mobile apps, supporting hackathons, or holding events such as Major League Baseball’s Bases Coded, in which teams competed “to create the next great interactive media product for baseball fans.”

Note, I’m not advocating that past performances and other handicapping products should be free, or that Equibase should release all the data it collects via an API without restrictions, although I do think it should release the majority of its data and without a significant lag. (Just as full charts can be downloaded within a hour of a race, so should race data.)

If you’re wondering what free(er) data might look like in racing, consider the models that already exist, ranging from MLB’s minimalist Gameday API to ESPN’s robust developer center. Imagine if Equibase created something similar to ESPN, which opens its data feeds to users for non-commercial applications with some usage restrictions (such as limiting the number of API calls within a set period) — as Thorotrends writes, the majority of racing fans would continue to use data as they always have, but there would be a small group who would hack and experiment. It would make racing feel less stagnant and less mysterious, leading to more fans and more wagering.

Market the data, certainly, just free the data first.

10/14/13 Update: Yes! From Dana Byerly, here’s a real-world example of how a horse racing API could be used.

Odds and Ends

In June 2011, Courier-Journal reporter Gregory Hall live tweeted the John Veitch-Life at Ten hearing. It was superb coverage. “My 140-word tweets give fuller picture of the Veitch hearing than my newspaper story tomorrow will,” he wrote then, a realization that helped lead to yesterday’s launch of Hall’s new blog, HorseBiz, which promises “inside baseball” for racing folk. I’ve already added it to my RSS reader. You should too.

Few use 140 characters as effectively as @o_crunk, who tweeted about Trakus:

Trakus could be so much more — efficient data distribution, an open API for developers, etc and this is what they come up with?

Trakus could be the group that leads industry out of the .pdf past performance dark ages. But here’s jockey efficiency ratings, have fun!

Trakus could be. Why isn’t it?

Also seeking answers re: New York racing …

Liz O’Connell pursues information on the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety and its delayed report on Aqueduct breakdowns (via):

On May 30, 2012, I made a freedom of information request to Racing and Wagering that was partially answered after the maximum number of delays allowed by law; then the information was mailed to the wrong address.

Frustrating. And the information she does get is illuminating only in what it reveals about the current state of New York’s racing stewardship.

In happier news: “After a period of time, IHA regained his calmness and he [grazed] in stately fashion just like a star.” Big Red Farm’s weekly I’ll Have Another updates are delightful (via).

Friday Notes

There have been retirements, defections, and unexpected announcements, but the recent Breeders’ Cup news that’s most interested me is that Theyskens’ Theory is now a probable for the Juvenile Fillies. ‘Theory,’ a Bernardini-sired 3/4 sibling to 2005 juvenile champion Stevie Wonderboy, started her career with three straight wins two wins from three starts before finishing third to Together and White Moonstone in the Fillies’ Mile. Trainer Brian Meehan, who hadn’t been talking about the BC for the buzz baby before that race at Ascot last month, much less a surface switch, said of the effort, “It was a good run, just not her best.” Maybe she’ll show that at Churchill Downs.

Keeneland president Nick Nicholson is succeeding Alan Marzelli as Equibase chairman at the end of the year. Dare to dream? It would be nice if the announcement heralded positive changes for the industry’s database going forward. Getting ahead of things, I started wondering what datasets I’d most like Equibase to make freely available in the way that Keeneland has its Polycapping database and sales results. All the Triple Crown races, of course, and the Breeders’ Cup races, as a group and by division. The Eclipse winners, as a group and by division. Pools, certainly, by track, by year, by wager type …

Dick Powell gets political:

While watching Mr. McMillan direct every issue back to the rent being too damn high, it occurred to me that maybe this is just what we need in horse racing. Instead of analyzing to death all the nuances of the issues that plague our sport, maybe we need the single-mindedness of Mr. McMillan. Maybe, we need Mr. McMillan himself to be our leader. Maybe we need Mr. McMillan to head up a new movement called “The Takeout is Too Damn High!”

Racing already has a McMillan. Its name is HANA.

With the end of the Suffolk Downs meet fast approaching, many East Boston racehorses are in need of new careers. CANTER New England is holding its fifth annual Showcase this Sunday, October 24, on the Suffolk backstretch, from 9:00 AM to noon, for just that reason. Read this delightful OTTB success story, about how well a retired Suffolk thoroughbred adapted to life off track, and stop by to check out the dozens of jumper, riding, and pasture prospects that the hard-working CANTER volunteers have cataloged for this year’s event.

Digital Trends

From Thoroughbred Times, at the 2010 Keeneland September sale:

Since every sales company’s catalogs, including Keeneland’s, have been available in portable document format (PDF) online for several years, it has long been possible to download entire catalogs to computers, but Apple Inc.’s new iPad as well as other tablet computers offer new possibilities to anyone who might feel overburdened by the burgeoning tools of the Thoroughbred trade….

“It improves the workflow,” Sonbol continued. “Before, I had to wait on all these paper reports, people looking at horses, vet reports. With this and the internet you can get everything updated on the go. I have my own private database as well, and it links to a server system so you can really speed up your workflow.”

From Sports Business Journal, on advances in player analysis:

Arguably the most dramatic advance within player analysis has not been within the number crunching itself, but the ability to take the research anywhere and access it through a simple touchscreen. Apple’s iPad tablet device, which sold more than 3 million units in just 90 days following its April debut, is now a must-have business tool for dozens of GMs across the major sports leagues.

“The iPad has been huge for us,” said Jed Hoyer, Padres general manager. The club’s work with TruMedia, which features iPad functionality in its analytics system, derived from Boston, where both Hoyer and TruMedia Chief Executive Rafe Anderson previously worked together for the Red Sox. “You’re really not going to carry a laptop into the ballpark, so having the wealth of data right at your fingertips is a huge convenience, certainly while you’re on the road.”

The data-everywhere trend is only going to extend to sports consumers.

Equibase, which has started taking seriously growing demand for mobile content, earlier this week added the Racing Yearbook, which first appeared earlier this month as an iPhone app, to its website. The online Yearbook includes charts for the year’s graded stakes, replays, and horse profiles, and while it’s not quite Racing Post breezy to use (you can’t click on horse’s name in a chart to get to a profile, for instance), it is a nice step forward in making more racing information available.

Unabashed Praise

for the Racing Post website. This morning, on noticing that Man of God, eighth to stablemate Frankel in his winning August 13 debut at Newmarket, had won at Yarmouth yesterday, I clicked over to that one’s Racing Post profile, with one question: Had any other horse in that race come back to win? There, I clicked on the race date, then on each finisher’s name, getting a pop-up window with each of their complete career records, and in five minutes — without logging in, entering credit card information, or downloading any PDFs — I had the answer. It was a breeze, as it is every time I visit. The site is data-rich and user-friendly. More advanced features require registration and/or payment, but elementary research can be accomplished with ease.

We’ve embraced the internet as openly as any sport that I’m aware of,” said NTRA president Alex Waldop in a recent TDN interview. “When it comes to the horse stuff, I think we’ve done a good job,” Equibase president Hank Zeitlin told the Paulick Report. Never mind the DRF, which has invested considerable resources in developing Formulator, a powerful handicapping tool hobbled by an outmoded card-based navigation and subscription model, while letting products such as Simulcast Daily stagnate. All it takes is a few minutes with the Racing Post to realize how far the American racing industry has to go to bring American racing fans an online tool as simple and useful.

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