This fall, the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation launched its “Free Data Friday” series, highlighting the substandard situation (on many levels) related to data in horse racing and comparisons to other sporting endeavors. As 2019 comes to a close, we summarize the 14 volumes of the #FreeDataFriday series and invite you to review them.
Volume 1 – Timing at Kentucky Downs
Kentucky Downs, unique with its course configuration and undulations, has no formal sectional timing system and relies on hand-timing. Equibase publishes these subjective times despite their somewhat questionable accuracy, providing a product that is dubious at best and creating a level of uncertainty for bettors.
Volume 2 – The Best Interests of Our Industry
Despite significant innovation and reasonable pricing for data in other sports, horse racing still charges significantly higher prices for access to data which is often woefully. Sports such as Major League Baseball provide an abundance of free information in modern formats to allow fans, and undoubtedly bettors, greater, modern insight into the game.
Volume 3 – The Korean Example
Despite its status as a relatively smaller jurisdiction, the Korea Racing Authority offers an abundance of downloadable information on its website, as well as free race replays to add context to the data. Online wagering in the country is not allowed and all forms of wagering comes from either on-track or off-track wagering centers, with a total of US$7 billion wagered last year. While there is still clearly room to improve upon Korea’s offerings, there is no denying its superiority to American racing’s data situation.
Sky Racing World, an American-based subsidiary of Australia’s Tabcorp, offers free data for Australasian and South African racing on its website. This includes free past performances with analysis and expert selections from Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, and South Korea – including a downloadable XML file for Hong Kong racing. This free information is being used as an incentive to attract betting interest from Americans with something our own country still does not provide for its own product.
The National Football League is hosting its second annual Big Data Bowl in 2020, described as an “annual analytics contest [that] explores statistical innovations in football – how the game is played and coached.” Eleven participants from the 2019 Big Data Bowl have since been hired by NFL teams of affiliate vendors. The 2019 edition was the inaugural version, with finalists presenting their findings to league officials and representatives of the 32 teams at the NFL Combine earlier this year.
A report titled “Declining Purses and Track Commissions in Thoroughbred Racing: Causes and Solutions” was presented by consultants to the NTRA’s Wagering Systems Task Force in September 2004. Now more than 15 years following the report, this volume revisits recommendations and considers the state of the industry at present. To read the full findings, CLICK HERE.
Volume 7 – Actual FREE Data
Heeding the call for the value of free, basic data, the Breeders’ Cup, North American racing’s premier championship event, offered free past performances for both its Friday and Saturday cards.
Volume 8 – Data in a Dynamic Marketplace
Exit velocity and launch angle data in baseball, tracked for less than five years, was used to question changes to balls used in play when analysts identified significant changes in playoff results from ball tracking. College basketball teams are partnering with ShotTracker, while NHL analysts caught inconsistencies in data collection thanks to transparent releases of such data over years. The application of technology in racing is woefully behind the organized approach from other sports.
Breeders’ Cup released the full ledger of bets from the 457 entries in its 2019 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, offering a plethora of data and insight to the approach of its large number of challenge participants. “It’s quite a substantial undertaking to dive into the data, but the fact it exists and gives us a chance to see where players scored big, where they just missed, or innovative ways to attack the puzzle of the Breeders’ Cup races offers a great learning opportunity where one had not existed prior to making the plays public,” said Peter Fornatale, host of the In The Money Players’ Podcast.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will host a Hockey Analytics Conference (CBJHAC) in February to “showcase state-of-the-art research happening in the hockey analytics community and explore the use of data-driven analysis being done by industry professionals today.” The event is open to anyone with an interest in statistical analysis or hockey. A horse racing version would be a welcome addition to the industry landscape.
Volume 11 – Kentucky Derby Future Wager Opens
While the Kentucky Derby Future Wager is available months in advance of the actual event, you cannot lock into a price in a fixed-odds style of bet as the future wager is still pari-mutuel based. However, illicit, offshore fixed-odds providers exist and take bets from Americans illegally. Horse racing still does not allow fixed-odds wagering legally in the United States despite its prevalence in sports betting and its easily understood format, resulting in a hugely underutilized potential market that is controlled by illegal bookmakers for the time being. Easy access to these markets punishes American horsepeople.
Jim Nantz, long-time CBS sports broadcaster, delved into the idea that the NFL should offer increased transparency from game officials. The concept is simple, those invested in the outcome of a sporting event – either as a fan or bettor – want as much insight and information as they can get so that they can be assured that the sports is being adjudicated appropriately and professionally. Horse racing’s public still remains very much in the dark on the adjudication of stewards’ inquiries and objections, with the 2019 Kentucky Derby being a prime example of the confusion and confidence-zapping that a lack of transparency can cause.
Volume 13 – “BetCasts” Growing
With sports betting legalization comes a new way of covering sports with a fresh in-person and broadcast experience, one allowing for interactive dialogues between commentators and viewers/bettors and between teams and their live attendees. The NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards are two teams to offer these betting-focused broadcasts, known as “betcast,” which supplement traditional game coverage. Betcasts provide viewers with live, on-screen data reflecting betting market behavior before and during games.
Volume 14 – Special Olympics Modernizing Data
Beginning with the Sweden Invitational Games 2020, Special Olympics will begin testing the implementation of real-time statistics for its competitions. The sport of floorball, similar to floor hockey, will be the test case, though officials indicate other sports are likely to enjoy the addition of live data. Information collected will be uploaded to the International Floorball Federation’s website and available to the public in the hopes of growing awareness and interest in the sport and the Special Olympics.