Anyone involved with the thoroughbred racing and breeding business in North America should want nothing but the best for the industry. The sustainability of the industry must be paramount, however threats from many corners exist, both direct and indirect.
When it comes to data, the industry is clearly well-served by having a company such as Equibase in place. As then Vice Chairman of The Jockey Club, William S Farish noted at its 1992 Round Table Conference:
“Before Equibase was formed, Thoroughbred racing stood out alone as just about the only major professional sport which was not responsible for its own records…The Thoroughbred industry has the responsibility and obligation to maintain control of those records, and make sure they are made widely available in whatever way suits the best interests of the industry.”
While Mr Farish's statement is timeless, it does generate some questions when posed in a modern arena:
What best suits the interests of the industry NOW? In an era of big data, analytics, legalized sports betting, and a host of data-related business tied to professional sports offering far more options in modern formats at far lower price points, is the racing data status quo a tenable one?
While Equibase provides race entries and results information for free and includes a searchable database that has improved in depth over the years, what is best for the industry today?
Is it a $30 charge to purchase a Gold Day Pass to access a host of information products for all tracks on a given day, or a $20 charge for the same information for just a single track? Both are options offered today. A season-long subscription to FanGraphs, a source of major baseball data, runs $50 a year. Fantasy football-related data could run you $30 a month or potentially $130 for an entire season. Some sites are free, with user-updated information. The marketplace is highly varied and incredibly active.
As it relates to racing, should an industry-owned enterprise charge current prices for data intended to inform a wagering decision when fewer dollars are being wagered, year over year, and a key driver of the health of the business is determined by the revenue derived from wagering?
What is best for the industry, TODAY?
HORSE WEIGHTS, PUBLISHED
Earlier this week, Irish racing pundit Kevin Blake outlined his wishes for British and Irish racing to pursue a policy of publishing horse weights before races. In his weekly column for At The Races, Blake wrote:
“In pretty much every other sport on the planet involving physical competition, great emphasis is placed on the physical measurements and attributes of the athletes, yet our analysis of racehorses is constrained by a lack of available data.
“Thus, why shouldn't horse racing make more of an effort to gather and publish this data in order to better inform and educate its audience? With this in mind, I would propose that serious consideration should be given to weighing, measuring and photographing every horse prior to them running and making this data publicly available.
“Hong Kong is often put forward as being the example by which other racing nations should seek to replicate as best they can in terms of the standard and level of information provided to the racing public.”
Several American tracks including all of the Stronach Group facilities, as well as Global Gaming's Remington Park and Lone Star Park, have been collecting and reporting horse weight for some time. The weights for each race are presented on the track's simulcast signals as horses arrive to the paddock and past weight information is available in some past performance products, but have not been integrated online.
The adoption of this information was inspired by the presence of horse body weights published in Hong Kong. While the racing authority in Hong Kong has full control over the stabling of the horses, enabling easy weight recording days in advance of the race, the situation is undoubtedly trickier in other jurisdictions.
“As far as the public is concerned, unless there is a long string of weights alongside a long string of races, I don't suppose there is any significance that can be attached to it.”
Trainer John Gaver weighed-in as well, but a lack of processing power may have limited his abilities from that time, now 64 years ago.
“Over a period of five or six years we kept a record of the weights with the idea that we might be able to find some guide as to the quality of the horses according to their weight, and frankly I have gone over those figures to try to figure out something but I can't make heads or tails of it or draw any conclusion whatever.”
So, what suits the best interests of the industry, today? With today's ability to analyze data?
The public has shown a desire for advanced statistical information to inform betting decisions far beyond racing. While not every customer cares for a particular data set, it does not suggest advanced data wouldn't be useful or consumable by another set of potential customers.
Major League Baseball has set out to help fans (and surely, bettors) understand advanced data to a greater degree. You can find more here on MLB.com – but in the interim, see the images below and ponder a future with far more racing data.
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