JC / Railbird

Data

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.

Handicapped

Via HANA:

“I’ve been developing my own handicapping software as a hobby since 2007, but the biggest problem I’ve faced is having enough data to properly calibrate and test the system,” said Ligett. “The data provided as part of the contest is just what I needed to move the idea forward.”

Lock up data, squelch innovation. Give developers data, spur innovation.

The Return of Dublin

Dublin, dropped from my PDI top 10 after the Arkansas Derby, returns this week at #1, a move driven by Eskendereya’s withdrawal from the race and a few hours with the past performances. Last week, when the field was looking set, I was intent on figuring out who would run behind Eskendereya — I know, I should feel more embarrassed to admit that. Every wise guy out there has been complaining about how with the loss of Esky, all the odds on the horses they were really planning to play have plunged. Whatever. The colt had the two best Beyer speed figures of this bunch, a perfect prep season, a fitting pedigree. He’s also physically impressive — watching at Aqueduct on Wood Day, I was struck by how much more mature and robust he looked than the other starters (check out his chest and shoulders in this photo by Sarah K. Andrew). Watching the Wood replay, what grabbed my attention was how much he reminded me of Big Brown (and I wasn’t even a Big Brown fan), exhibiting a similar control and ease as he took the lead and drew away. I was going to bet the chalk on Saturday, and happily.

As for Dublin, I still have some concerns he won’t relish the Derby distance, but then, ten furlongs seem questionable for several of this year’s expected starters, who, for the most part, haven’t made much of an impression on me. His track work this weekend could also suggest problems: After attempting to bolt during a Saturday gallop, Dublin drifted out around the final turn in his Sunday work. What’s more, DRF clocker Mike Welsch noted, “the failure to gallop out with any serious energy cannot be taken as positive signs less than one week out from the big event.” A factor in his favor, though, is the relative toughness of the Oaklawn preps, in which Dublin ran well. Off a second in the Southwest, a third in the Rebel, and a fast-closing third in the Arkansas Derby,* he could be poised to move forward.

Devil May Care, coming into the Derby with a competitive profile and a slightly faster time in G2 Bonnie Miss Stakes than Ice Box in the G1 Florida Derby on the same day, moves to #2 and Sidney’s Candy to #3. Lookin at Lucky remains at #4, despite his exceptional qualities. I would rate him higher, but for his tendency to find trouble, and he’s only had two preps this year. There’s also the matter of blinkers-on, blinkers-off: Trainer Bob Baffert is still trying to figure out the colt, and he’s running out of time. But then, the new Derby favorite worked brilliantly this morning. (Trying to sort it all out this evening, Bill Finley’s see-no-works, hear-no-works approach to Derby week suddenly seems a very sensible one.)

PDI top 10 for 4/27/10: 1) Dublin 2) Devil May Care 3) Sidney’s Candy 4) Lookin at Lucky 5) Endorsement 6) Awesome Act 7) Jackson Bend 8) American Lion 9) Discreetly Mine 10) Stately Victor

Call it the Twerby? The 2009 Derby was the first in which Twitter played a real role, even if it was mostly to inspire an ongoing debate about the usefulness of the service. This year, however, Twitter has been a source of fast-changing news (see Ed DeRosa’s tweets Sunday on Eskendereya skipping work, doubtful for the Derby, out of the Derby), close-ups of contenders (see Frances J. Karon’s pictures of Dublin and Devil May Care), as well as workout times. Thanks to Dana Byerly of Green But Game for pointing out this Blood-Horse article on Monday’s Derby works, which cites tweets from Churchill’s media department. Observed Vic Zast, by tweet of course,

Not amazing that Esky out of Derby. Favs can drop out in last week. What’s amazing is how fast social networking sites passed news along.

How much a scene can change in just a year, and for the better.

*I was asked last week about column 15, “Key Derby Preps,” on the historical criteria spreadsheet. The numbers that appear there are simply how many such races a horse started in while prepping. Qualifying races were determined by the total number of Derby starters that emerged from each race, as well as the total number that finished ITM in the Derby, 1998-2008. A dozen races rated highly on both counts. It’s a quick measure of contenders’ preps, based on recent trends. Kevin Martin of Colin’s Ghost has done much deeper research on Derby preps: I recommend his work for more insight into using historical trends for judging prep races.

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