Embracing a Future with Free Racing Data,” the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation’s March 2019 white paper, presented a case by which the industry’s data provider Equibase would make its raw data available free for private, non-commercial use.

#FreeDataFriday, an ongoing series launched today by the TIF, will regularly outline the state of the information business in North American thoroughbred racing, the initiatives, pricing models and outreach on data and analytics in other sports, and seeks to raise awareness that the status quo data situation in horse racing is simply unacceptable.

“For far too long, Equibase has held our industry’s data hostage in cumbersome, antiquated formats and at unrealistic price points which stunts the growth of the business,” said Patrick Cummings, Executive Director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation. “Is data made available in some capacity? Yes. Is it anywhere close to what it should be, at realistic price points, matching other sports and gambling endeavors, now far more popular than racing? Not even close.”

In the coming weeks, the TIF invites stakeholders to offer their own stories about data, mistakes rife within it, ways in which they would change data offerings or other anecdotes about data collection in racing or other sports. To share those, please email: ThoroughbredIdeaFoundation@gmail.com.

Timing at Kentucky Downs

There has never been any formal sectional timing at Kentucky Downs, home to the five-day race meet which continues to draw substantial purses and participation – from horsemen and horseplayers.

A closer look at some of the data emerging from their races, however, is more disturbing.

The track has no grandstand, and the stand for officials, including camera crews, the announcer, stewards and judges is probably situated lower than any other in the sport in America, and certainly for the races at its prize money level.

With a non-standard shape, the use of a temporary rail, several “about” distances, undulations that make seeing the far part of the course challenging, and the potential for a bright sun that shines into those observing from the finish – even from the officials stand – seeing full sectional times in past performances for some horses that ran at the just completed meeting could lead to perpetuating erroneous information.

With no formal timing system, it was curious that the Equibase-collected and hosted race charts included some basic notes in all races run over the five days of their 2019 meeting: “The race was hand-timed and some fractions were unavailable” or “The race was hand-timed and the six-furlong fraction was unavailable.”

Given all of the conditions noted above, hand-timing races from Kentucky Downs seems seriously challenging.

The past performance line which represents (see below) a previous 6 ½ furlongs race at Kentucky Downs this meet shows the sectionals, which were hand-timed (but that fact is not noted in the past performance line) at 25.42 and 51.34 seconds for the opening splits. Keep in mind the vast majority of that was run downhill and on firm turf.

Kentucky Downs Sectionals.JPG

Interestingly, there is a run-up declared in the chart of 34 feet despite there being no electronic timing, which is what would necessitate the run-up in the first place.

The entire validity of the hand-timed data is called into question with such high figures. It is nearly impossible to believe that those times are correct, yet they are published as fact next to some indisputed facts of the race – it took place on August 31, 2019, it was Race 6, a maiden event with a $127,000 purse, and Kertara finished third.

Equibase is now in the business of timing horse races. They are the “official timer” at six different racetracks through a technology partnership. Their business should be attentive to how to properly time races and those overseeing it should know when to publish times or suggest that the methods used to collect them are suspect.

Publishing a note that says “fractions unavailable” would be far more useful than publishing the clearly erroneous, hand-timed information that is otherwise reflected. Publishing hand-collected times, for a $1 million race such as the Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup (G3), a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race like the Runhappy Turf Sprint (G3) and other key stakes which will be represented in the past performances for the big days at Santa Anita in early November, is a disservice to customers.

Former Equibase CEO Richard LeBer noted in 1995, “The information revolution is coming. It won’t go away. We can’t ignore it; it will sweep us up just the same. We can fight it, build a moat, man the battlements, and dig in for a long siege. Or we can join it and get busy with the hard work necessary to put it to our advantage.”

Horseplayers and interested parties are left to deal with erroneous data, for which customers of such information products pay handsomely. The revolution has come and gone, being totally redefined by an era of big data and analytics. It would be easy to argue that North American racing has been left behind with an antiquated approach in desperate need of modernization.

#FreeDataFriday is all about explaining and presenting situations which should not persist within the industry, but sadly, have for far too long. Horseplayers and racing stakeholders deserve better.

Send us your ideas, brainstorms, complaints and more – ThoroughbredIdeaFoundation@gmail.com