In other racing data conversations
Not being able to reply in real time on Twitter is doing wonders for my blogging output!
the penultimate paragraph especially stuck in my mind–I'm no data whiz, but I think *doing* new things with existing data is nearly as important as deriving & maintaining the data itself. even things that feel fun like the replays cause blood to circulate.
— diana h. (@Menshevixen) March 13, 2019
But, back to blogging, the nice part of missing a potential Twitter conversation is having some time to clarify my thoughts. I might take this approach more often because honestly I suck in real time.
Diana’s comment reminded me that it’s easy to let the tide of current commentary and thought push aside one’s own area of interest. Most of the conversation, at least of late, about racing data focus on two things: Business model how-tos and actionable versus not actionable. Both are relevant and rich topics worthy of discussion. Neither are conversations I find myself wanting to take part in (well, maybe actionable/not-actionable but my contribution is always “it depends on the context”).
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that a game like horse racing attracts people interested in numbers and markets, so these are the kind of conversations that happen easily. Dean over at Pull the Pocket, who should win a lifetime achievement award for blogging sticktoitiveness, has been exploring this terrain for over a decade. His forte is using analogy to try to break through the thick, thick wall of industry inaction and hesitance. Just today his post was building on TIF’s white paper and yesterday’s conversation(s).
Rich Nilsen had a post with thoughts on HOW to give away free data (caveat: I only scanned this post, and was alerted to by Chris’ comment). My point? No shortage of this kind of conversation and thought. Not a bad thing.
But there’s another conversation that I think is relevant, or at least interesting, but since it doesn’t role up to either of the two usual topics it tends to get ignored. And that topic can generally be filed under “other uses not directly related to gambling” for racing data.
In the post I can’t seem to stop quoting and linking to from a few years ago I said this:
Regardless of what you think of sites like Five Thirty Eight, it’s a great example of how historical data can be used to create compelling, informative content. And if something like that existed for racing it could be used to help you make handicapping and/or wagering decisions.
I’ve had a change of heart about that last bit, at least to some degree. You may or may not be familiar with the Stakes Profiles at Hello Race Fans!. If not, they’re data visualization posts that show trends for a particular stakes race since 1991. Basically answering simple questions like “how have favorites performed?” and “what kind of running styles have performed well, or not?” using garden variety bar and line charts. Nothing fancy, basic stuff.
I got the first glimmer for the idea a few years earlier when I was working on Cheat Sheets for televised BC races, as a hook I’d lead with how favorites had performed over the last ten years. It was surprising that one had to put in so much work to answer what seemed like basic questions.
Always in search of a new project, I started working on how to visualize the data, initially thinking that of course it would all be “actionable” and useful for wagering and super awesome and useful. Ultimately I don’t think it turned out that way.
Is it interesting to know these sorts of things of about a stakes race? Yes, definitely. Is it actionable for wagering on today’s rendition? Probably not, but I do think there are occasions where some of it can be used that way depending on the context ☠️ (yes, I’m true to form).
But even if it’s not actionable for wagering, I think it’s still valuable in that provides context and narrative to the wider notion of racing. Not every narrative has to be a longform love letter, rich with historic detail and capital I importance. Being able to answer simple questions without doing a shitton of clicking around Equibase (while they monetize pageviews, racing business model alert!), collecting data points and manually concocting percentages, etc is something lost in the discussion and lost on the industry.
I was happy to see this reply from Pat when some guy I don’t know heckled one of my promo tweets with the call of “not actionable”…
I'm not suggesting history of a race determines how I bet that year's edition. The information as presented is interesting on its own – and there's nothing wrong with that. I view it all as part of a greater picture of the types that have won this race.
— Pat Cummings (@PatCummingsTIF) February 16, 2019
Here’s hoping as industry-level conversations unfold, the notion of racing data used for historical context is part of the picture.