Improving the Horse Racing Data Product

Studying the Daily Racing Form the night before a day at the track was one of those customs that appealed to me as a novice horseplayer. As a self-proclaimed “stat geek”, this made sense – the numbers in the form presented a puzzle to be solved, and I ate it up. Studying the Form has actually lost some appeal to me as I’ve become a more serious player. I’ve realized two things: I’m the exception among new and potential racing fans, and I don’t get enough data.

I’ll post in the future about what I think can be done to make racing data more accessible to casual fans and bettors, those who want to improve their chance at cashing a ticket but who are not going to be handling hundreds of dollars a day at the races. These suggestions are geared to the serious bettor and can be summed up by telling the racing services (DRF, Equibase, BRISnet) to do one thing: REDUCE SEARCH COSTS.

Note: I use BRISnet in examples below since that is the service I currently use the most, and am familiar with their pricing.

Let me start off by saying I’m not afraid of a lot of data. I’ve got about 12 years experience with database development and data mining and there’s nothing I’d like more than to have access to “the database” that all PPs and the accompanying stats are generated from. I don’t foresee ever getting that kind of access at a low price, so I’m going to concentrate on making suggestions that are nearer to the current business model.

It occurs to me that a typical Past Performance Card is, in marketing parlance, a “bundle” – the single unit is the PP information for a single race. Historically, bundling PPs for all races at a single track makes perfect sense for how the races used to be bet – on the track. The majority of handle today comes from simulcasts or online thru ADWs – a racetrack PP card is not a natural bundle for many bettors.

Think of it this way – a typical day at the races bundles stakes races with claimers, maidens and allowance runners at different distances on turf or dirt or AW and with fields of 4-12 runners. A racetrack card primarily helps those bettors targeting the multi-race pools, the P3s-P6s. Many bettors – and I daresay most big bettors – have a niche. Handle numbers would lead you to believe that quality – graded stakes races, HQ meets like Saratoga, Del Mar, and Keeneland, Derby/Belmont/BC – attracts the most action. In the absence of quality, larger fields always produce good betting opportunities, which ultimately drives handle. I personally like betting maiden races, since a little pedigree knowledge goes a long way to finding a price on a horse. Some bettors like horizontals; others, vertical bets.

A bettor could, with a half hour’s work, find the set of races that he’s most attracted to do on any given day. An information service (say BRISnet) can help that bettor reduce his search costs (his time, basically) by creating bundles targeted at simulcast and online bettors.

PP Bundling Options
– Class: 10 most expensive stakes races on a given day; all stakes/allowance races on East Coast; 10 best MSWs, etc.
– Field Size: Based on current entries, the 10-12 races with the most horses entered to run on a given day
– Bet Type: 10-12 Races offering $0.50 tris, $0.10 supers – sorted by Class/Field Size; Late P4s for east coast tracks
– Surface/Distance: 10-12 Turf Races, Sprints, Two-turns, etc.
– Post Time: Races within a given simulcast window, say 2-4 EST

I think you see that the real value here is in combining these options to attract bettors to the races they like the most. Have a bundle that has all allowance-level races and above with 9 or more entries – these formful races with many opportunities to find price horses should attract big bettors, but they’re not always going to find them if they limit themselves to playing just 3 tracks.

How would one price bundles like these? Right now, the effective price for a BRIS Track PP is effectively $0.20; 10% TwinSpires share of takeout of a $2 win bet to get Ultimate PPs free. I can envision pricing these bundles for $0.10/race. For a 10-race card, that’s $1.00. Using the same math as above, a $10 daily handle would offset the price of a single bundle. Handle $20/30 and Ultimate PP “Better Bet Bundles” are free for the day. During its Breeders’ Cup promotion, TwinSpires/Brisnet showed the ability to associate higher handles with information discount and, apparently, had considerable success with that promotion.

I believe the feedback loop of driving bettors to good races and producing handle gains will lead tracks to card better races. California would have done fine this spring if field size jumped up to 9 a race like Tampa Bay, takeout hike be damned. If bundling drives more bettors to a 12-horse claimer at Turfway, then we’ll have supported the practices the sport needs. But for me, I want to identify more overlays, win more money, and this would help me do that.

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