TIF Note: To those who control the keys to data in American racing – The Jockey Club, Equibase, Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America – and to the owners of Thoroughbreds who wish to continue racing, enjoying prize money and a more sustainable sport, we suggest you read this first-person account carefully, considering how these organizations can create a better future for engaging customers with vastly improved data offerings or risk losing yet another generation.

By: John Camardo 

I was introduced to horse racing at the age of 25, in a bar, on Cinco de Mayo 2017. There was a promotional spot for an ADW offering free money to sign-up. They had hats and I wanted one.

Long story short – I wake up the next morning a bit groggy, with a hat, missed calls from a pizza delivery that never quite happened and no betting account. But I remembered the lure of the promo and figured I would give it a shot.

At first, I was just betting using “expert” picks – finding information on racing when starting from zero is more challenging than you would think. Spending 4% of my $50 bankroll to purchase a digital, basic PP form, seemed absurd. I searched for free PPs and found them. Yonkers happened to offer them one day a week – so I started playing harness racing. 

My fascination grew with more research. The amount of data packed into a few pages of the free day’s PDF was astounding to me at the time, even with just the basics provided. I binged on handicapping books, hoping to expedite the learning process. Eventually, I found an ADW that offered free PPs if I wagered (but also the tough lesson – on a small bankroll – that if I didn’t play, I’d be charged for the PPs).

After months of dabbling, I decided that it was time to build a proper database.

I spent hundreds of hours building the cheapest thing possible and had a great sense of accomplishment when I thought it was ready to go. I created my first handicapping model, my first computer generated odds line. To myself, I was a pioneer.

As my understanding of the data and how to model it improved, my handle increased. I could spend far less time handicapping (the model was doing that), and more time betting and enjoying racing. My handle in a day was exceeding handle from my first two years of betting combined.

But with this increased familiarity with American racing data came some greater frustrations. I began to realize that which I’d spent tireless hours collecting was nothing short of garbage. Times were off. Run-up was nearly impossible to find in entries. There was very little uniformity. I had built what I thought could be my own personal racing empire on, well, a lot of garbage. And in the world of modeling, much like in the real world, the saying “garbage in, garbage out” holds true.  

I did find some success. I have made multiple four-figure scores with my model, which is more than I had ever imagined was feasible. Remember – I was starting from zero. And now, I am betting far more. 

Why though, was I spending so much time maintaining, cleaning and fixing data? Was nothing else out there better?  

I’m sure this sounds naïve to some industry veterans, and would potentially scare-off my contemporaries pursuing the same thing. In a few short years of engagement, having randomly bumped into horse racing in a New York bar and really quite liking it – I found myself frustrated with the quality of the “local” product.

I started to look abroad in December 2019. As I write this, I have almost an equal amount of data on British and Hong Kong racing as I can claim for two years of time with U.S. racing. Also, it’s free.

Pair that with: higher quality data (sectional times in Hong Kong are nothing short of spectacular), more of it (workouts and vet records at the click of a button, and free), more uniformity in racing (the handicap system, and classes outside of the U.S. are a modeler’s dream) and frankly, better quality racing (bigger fields, transparency and integrity), and I can’t help but feel ecstatic every day I have the proposition of betting in these overseas markets.

I do not want to give up on U.S. racing. 

I still bet in our markets. I am, however, shifting a hefty percentage of my wagering to foreign racing. The data has proved to be better. I know that only because there was essentially no barrier or cost to entry. I knew nothing about foreign racing a few months back. With free and easy to access data, now I do, and I plan on refining it over time.

In my experience, freely accessible data is always the best bet. 

John Camardo, 27, is a Cornell University graduate with a degree in operations management and information engineering. He lives in New York, working in the financial services industry and is a contributor to the In The Money Players’ Podcast with Peter Thomas Fornatale.