EQUIBASE GETS IT RIGHT

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

What's this? Happy horseplayers? Why the racetracks must be giving money away. EIther that, or someone has paid attention to the needs of these long-suffering, often forgotten supporters of the game. In this case, it's the latter, and the group paying attention to horseplayers was Equibase, the racing industry's data base owned in tandem by the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America and the Jockey Club.

The Paulick Report has chided Equibase to be more responsive to the needs of the industry and suggested the company focus more on using its data to help build the fan base and worry less about turning a profit for its owners. Shortly after our critique of Equibase, the company announced that it was loosening restrictions on access to historic charts. Most recently, we were pleased to see that Equibase announced a new and improved method of communicating late scratches and changes to horseplayers and fans. We hope these two recent imnprovements in service are signs  that Equibase takes its mission seriously.

Jeff Platt, president of the Horseplayers Association of North America, tells the story of how this new program came to be. — Ray Paulick

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
By Jeff Platt

president Horseplayers Association of North America

Equibase recently announced completion of a new project called Scratches Today. A press release was distributed on Oct. 1 (click here to view). HANA was involved right from the very beginning. Here is the story…

Early Beginnings

In April, 2009 while we were in Lexington, Ky., for the first HANA Day at the Races at Keeneland, we met with Equibase CEO Hank Zeitlin and his management team. We talked about several issues that are critical to racing and we were given a tour of the Equibase facility.

When the subject of scratches and changes came up, everyone in the room admitted the current system in place was lacking. Reporting of scratches and changes had always been a point of player frustration. More so for players following and wagering multiple tracks online than for players following a single track while wagering at the track live.

For the online player, reporting of scratches and changes had always been hit or miss. Each and every week we could point to at least a handful of scratches that were never reported at all. Every once in a while we could point out instances of the wrong horse being reported as scratched. The same could be said when it came to reporting of rider changes. Ditto for races off the turf.

A little bit of background information about me might be in order here. Back in 2004 I created a module for JCapper called Scratch Bot. Scratch Bot's sole function is to allow the user-player to scour the web for scratches and races off the turf and import new changes as they become available. I'm telling you this as a way of letting you know just how acutely aware I am when it comes to scratches and changes information and just how unreliable that information can sometimes be.

To give you an example, when the Breeders' Cup was held at Lone Star Park in 2004, Seek Gold officially finished second in race one, and was part of a $2 exacta paying $970.20, while listed in the Autotote/Brisbet system as a scratch!

While chatting with Hank that morning we let him know just how strongly we felt that there needed to be a reliable web-based source for scratches and changes information. While sitting at the table in one of Equibase's conference rooms, I “white boarded” a design for a web-based system capable of getting the job done on a legal pad and showed it to Hank. I even volunteered to stay on in Lexington for the next several weeks (or the entire summer if necessary) to do software development work on the project for free.

I guess Hank must have seen how passionate we were about the need for the industry to do a better job in this one area. He agreed to a follow-up meeting which was held a few days later. From that beginning the idea of Scratches and Changes in Real Time became a reality.

The Scratches Today Project

The Scratches Today Project enables Equibase to propagate scratches and changes information onto the Equibase site in something pretty close to real time. Click here for a direct URL to the page at Equibase.com:

When you click on the link for an individual track, you will see a page that looks like the following screenshot:

 

Screenshot of Equibase Scratches Page DEL 10-05-2009

The page html shows the track name, date and time of the last update, and continuously updated changes for each race.

RSS

Players can also subscribe to a free RSS Feed.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication  which allows anyone to subscribe to a feed of data using a software client of some kind.

What is cool about RSS is that any new information is pushed to you direct. There is no need for you to visit Equibase and constantly refresh the page. Once you subscribe you will just receive an update with new information each time there is a new scratch or change. There are also RSS clients available for mobile phones, so a player wagering on multiple tracks online, at an OTB, or at a track live, can easily receive updates on any or all tracks as well.

You can find the most popular standalone RSS clients here.

A list of popular mobile RSS clients can be found here.

XML

In addition to the web pages for each track and the RSS Feed, a downloadable XML File has been provided for those players who wish to parse the latest scratches and changes. The XML itself looks like this:

 

Screenshot of Equibase XML DEL 10-05-2009

The XML contains nodes populated with information for race date, track name, race number, horse name, program number, change description, and a timestamp. In early meetings with Equibase, everyone was in agreement that a central XML feed was the perfect source data format for delivering this information.

How does it work?

In the past, an employee at each track was responsible for letting Equibase know about scratches and changes. At most tracks the employee responsible for scratches and changes wears many hats and is responsible for many different things on race day. Generally that employee could be counted upon to let Equibase know about early scratches and changes. But if that employee happened to be busy later in the day when subsequent scratches and changes were announced, reporting such information to Equibase had always been given low priority.

Enter the Equibase chart caller. Before a chart can be cut, all scratches and changes need to be entered into the system. Hank Zeitlin, the CEO of Equibase came up with a novel idea. Instead of waiting until after the race to enter late breaking scratches and changes – why not be proactive and have chart callers enter scratches and changes data into the system as they are announced by the track announcer over the public address system? If that could reasonably be done – then changes could be propagated from the database into the XML and out onto the Equibase site within a second or two after the chart caller clicks the submit button.

The following info model was adopted:

A designated track employee would still be responsible for entering early scratches and changes. As part of the project Equibase went out into the field and sold the tracks on the idea of giving higher priority to scratches and changes.

Responsibility for entering scratches and changes shifts to the chart caller 45 minutes to an hour before post time for race one.

In late April, 2009 Hank committed a team of Equibase IT people to making Scratches in Real Time a reality. Hank has kept HANA in the loop and asked for our involvement and input right from the beginning. The system that Equibase has created is more extensive than the one I initially “white boarded” on a legal pad in that first meeting. It contains protocols for error checking/error correction that the initial system I was proposing didn't have.

HANA is honestly thrilled with what Equibase has produced. The new Equibase system meets all of the requirements we wanted to see in every way. It is web based. It records scratches and changes in a central database. And it propagates those changes out onto the web within a second or two of when the submit button is clicked.

For the online player wagering on multiple tracks the Equibase Scratches Today project is a vast improvement over what was available in the past. As well, for those at tracks or simulcast centers, they now can get accurate real time jockey changes, surface changes and scratches “pushed” right on to their mobile phone, eliminating the need to watch TV screens or visit the posted scratches sheets for their updates.

Where do we go from here?

It is our sincere hope that players everywhere will enjoy the benefits of this new system for many years to come. We are also envisioning that tracks, in an effort to cut costs and improve standardization, will move to use the Equibase XML feed as a data source for displaying Scratches and Changes in Real Time right on their own track websites as soon as reasonably possible.

  • Chad K.

    A new day is dawning, I feel it in my bones.

    Congratulations Equibase and thank you Paulick Report.

  • steve

    Thank you Equibase for paying attention to your critics.It is up to you to get millions of more fans to Gamble on Horseracing.It’s a start and you need to do more.

    I believe you need to make the past Performances free and easily accesible to everyone.Over time this will bring in millions of new Gamblers and the Horseracing industry will take In multiple times more profit than If you sell your pps.

    I believe the reason Equibase was started was to help the industry grow,so lets do It.

    Thanks ray,Thanks Hana and Thank you Equibase.

  • Peter

    People working together to actually do something. It is something not seen in the horse racing industry too often. We need more of it! Well done.

  • Nick

    Equibase is still lacking – OVERWEIGHTS are not included in race-day changes.

  • Barry K Schwartz

    Ray
    In the spirit of this letter, am I the only racing fan in the country that is appalled that the Daily Racing Form has stopped printing result charts ? Can you imagine the Post or News stopping to give results of yesterday’s baseball games ? My complaints have fallen on deaf ears at the form with the lame excuse being the high cost of paper and the easy availability of on line charts. No one seems to complain though I know many racing people who now buy the form only when really necessary.
    At least the News and Post have modest charts for those of us who choose not to carry a computer around.

  • Waquoit

    Thanks, Ray. Your blog post and the new charts policy came too close together to be just a coincidence.

  • Nick Kling

    Barry,

    It has been pretty clear for a few years now DRF wants to push people to the electronic version. That allows them to transfer some of the cost to the user.

    As someone who lives & works in a relatively rural area, I have no problem with that. Before the Form and BRIS went on-line with PPs it was impossible to get them on a timely basis for most of the year.

    If I lived near a newsstand where I could get the PPs for the tracks I wanted, then I’d have a different opinion. Too bad they can’t do both effectively. It’s just one more example of what you’ve often talked about–how racing and the people who run it don’t cater to the customer.

  • Lucky

    One thing still missing is current conditions of dirt tracks….fast, good, muddy, sloppy, or wet. This is a critically important piece of information…equally as important as races being taken off the turf. I’m somewhat disappointed that the new Equibase Scratch and Program Change webpage doesn’t include dirt track conditions, so I still have to visit indifidual track websites to get current conditions for dirt tracks. Some smaller tracks don’t even list track conditions on their websites, so at times I am unaware of track conditions until results for the first race are posted on Brisnet. Hopefully, those who have worked so hard to fix the Scratch/Program Change system will find a way to include current track conditions for each track in the USA that still runs races on the dirt.

  • Two self interested entities applying bubble gum to the cracks of an antiquated and obsolete system. In the effort to garner publicity, HANA and Equibase continue in the failure to appeal to two generations of potential fans, already alienated by the overload of grandpa’s information format.

  • Hey Jon, HANA’s main goal is to make it so that racing becomes more appealing to new fans. Until racing fixes its pricing problem, that won’t be solved, and it is up to the tracks and horsemen to realize what they need to do.

    As for this particular fix, it may not attract new customers, but it may keep some customers from leaving.

    Just curious. What have you done to keep customers, or two attract two generations of lost fans?

  • Gene Reis

    I concur that the most important pieces of information are still missing – we can get scratches from the online tote boards – are the track conditions for dirt and turf for all tracks…. Thanks to Hana and Equibase for this great start…

  • It is really wasy to say that these improvements are not what is needed; not enough to make a difference.

    But the fact of the matter is that any progress is still a step in the right direction.

  • Dave also says that he can normally spell his own name.

  • -quote:
    “One thing still missing is current conditions of dirt tracks….fast, good, muddy, sloppy, or wet. This is a critically important piece of information…”
    –end quote-

    Just wanted to pass on that Equibase is very much aware that track condition isn’t part of the new system yet. I’ve been told they are working towards getting it added as soon as is reasonably possible.

    My understanding is that it came down to the following choices:

    1. Publish the new scratches and changes system as it currently exists.

    2. Wait until after track condition could be added and publish later.

    Equibase opted to publish now and add track condition as soon afterwards as is reasonably possible.

  • Picksburg Phil

    A little off topic, but if the demographics of this form of gambling doesn’t expand it won’t matter much what equibase does right or wrong. I went to Sunland Park (simulcast) yesterday and I was like a teenager compared to the rest of the crowd and I’ll be 59 in a few weeks. I thought I was going to be carded at the bar because I was so young there. Maybe the younger players are playing online. Ruidoso did have a younger crowd on Labor Day weekend though. Had Noble’s Promise at 12/1 in the Breeder’s Futurity at Keeneland but gave most of the winnings to a leper in Juarez, but that another story.

  • RG

    When I looked at Belmont for Monday on my ADW they had changes at 11:34 or earlier. Nothing on Equibase.

  • Great Idea,

    Great start/Roll out,

    We need all the changes,
    I don’t want to have to go to many different sites to get all the changes that are being reported,

    This is a great step one,

    but keep going, I need the Weight changes and all the other stuff missing,

    Question: Why wasn’t all the missing stuff put in this first product,
    it’s NOT like players DON’t need it.

    We need one stop shopping for this info.

    If you are going to make a BIG change here,

    do it right,

    us Horse players will really appreciate it.

    Keep this effort going .

  • The folks at Equibase seem to be moving in the right direction. They recently started allowing free access to historical charts. For those of us who do research, it is much appreciated.

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