Wally Skalij

Racing is Ripe for More Advanced Statistics

An Arizona Racing Symposium panels reveals opportunities for better statistics.

Finding ways to help Thoroughbred racing fans and horseplayers navigate the vast amount of data the sport generates was the focus of a five-member panel discussion Dec. 10 during the Arizona Global Symposium on Racing & Gaming.

The panel included entrepreneurs, developers, and representatives of several companies that create handicapping products or provide enhancements to simulcasting broadcasts.

"Raw data can cause indigestion," said Marc Attenberg, founder and CEO of Real Time Racing, which launched a digital past performance product called TimeformUS earlier this year. "Some people think figuring out raw data is part of the fun of the game. But that is not how people consume information these days. Raw data exists to convert into meaningful and usable ratings."

Besides ratings, panelists described ways they have each begun to present past performance metrics, fractions, and positions during a race into line graphs or bar charts. Dave Siegel, president of TrackMaster, talked about new feature Equibase has been offering for freea variety of information as bar charts to enhance past performance information.

Fernando  Vincenezini, with Autochart, described features his company has developed that shows in real time as part of a simulcast feed how the pace of the front runner changes during a race. The company can later show how the pace scenario changed for every horse in the field.

As these companies and developers look for ways to make commonly used statistics more digestible, Patrick Cummings, director of racing information for Trakus, challenged the industry to come up with even more advanced statistics.

Cummings noted that in 2012 the top 100 racehorses by earnings made an average of 6.8 starts. If the average race is about two minutes, then the most marketable horses in the sport are running for a total of 14 minutes for the year.

"If you are fan of the Red Sox and you miss a game, have you missed the season? No," he said. "But in horse racing if you miss 14 minutes of the highest-earning horses, you have missed the entire season."

By comparison, Cummings said, the top 100 jockeys by earnings averaged 888 starts. In Major League Baseball, the top 100 players by most at-bats averaged 573 plate appearances.

"It raises the question: should we be marketing the jockeys?" Cummings asked. "Could we create a new bridge to bring new fans to the sport by marketing our most relatable characters?"

He suggested the creation of Sabermetric-like statistics for riders. Sabermetrics refers to the empirical analysis of baseball statistics pioneered by Bill James that, in particular, tracks in-game activity. As an example, Cummings showed how a jockey's ability to save ground can vary from track-to-track. One analysis showed Calvin Borel, renowned for rail-hugging trips, actually covered 7.2 more feet on average on his mounts at Keeneland.

"As a trainer shouldn't this information come into play? And as a bettor, if your horse (at Keeneland) is breaking from gate 12 and Borel is on, is he going to save ground? The answer is no," he said. Cummings did note in a similar analysis that Borel ranked as the most efficient rider at Churchill Downs, saving just over one length per mount.

"Overall, we believe the elements for creating advanced data are there," he said. "If we go about just marketing the sport for horses, we could be missing a huge element with our human element."