Things That Make You Go Hmmmm (13)

Equibase Co., a partnership of subsidiaries of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations and The Jockey Club, was formed in 1991 "to provide the Thoroughbred racetracks of North America with a uniform, industry-owned database of racing information and statistics," according to the company website.

"Equibase will continue to leverage information to serve the fan base and help promote the sport, regardless of the medium through which fans access information," the company says.

There's no doubt Equibase has come a long way in its 22 years. But a recent racetrack experience has me thinking more and more its data isn't being properly utilized–to the detriment of those who wager on horse racing at tracks and satellite facilities.


Very Good - click here for a larger image

The top past-performance snapshot was taken from the live racing program at Indiana Downs. I hadn't seen this particular type of program page at any other track, and still haven't. It contains claimed lines; previously-trained-by lines; when a horse was scratched (if applicable); and various trainer and jockey statistics usually found in products that pay Equibase for PP data and re-purpose it. Each race also has a box of top horses in five or six handicapping categories.

A few of these things, and others such as italicized names of return winners in PPs, appear in some programs, but nothing I've seen produced by Equibase is this comprehensive. So why is a lid being kept on it? I've been told it's up to each racetrack to decide which information to use, and how to present it; the result, however, is a hodgepodge of PP data, some of it inadequate given the information available, from track to track.

I've seen this second simulcast Equibase PP page at several racetracks. It's only a step better than just selling scratch sheets, so I don't get the point other than tracks don't want to spend the money on more program pages to accommodate more PPs per horse.


Very Bad - click here for larger image

What's interesting is Indiana Downs has an excellent PP program for live racing, but doesn't use the same information for all the simulcast tracks it imports. Yet a large chunk of pari-mutuel handle at many facilities, including Indiana Downs, comes from wagers on other tracks, not the live product.

A growing number of racetracks and off-track betting sites have opted to turn over production of their handicapping products to second and third parties, apparently to save money. But one wonders if racetrack executives really look at the quality of the product they are selling the public.

Equibase over the years has become a data provider–at no small cost to the recipients. The current scheme in the racing industry allows companies such as Daily Racing Form, Brisnet.com, TrackMaster before Equibase bought it, and others to buy the basic data and crunch it and embellish it to provide proprietary products of interest to many players.

That's not the problem. If a player wants that information, and much of it is good, he or she can buy it at whatever price is charged by the provider. Many of these transactions are online-based, and often the PPs are available for free if someone has an advance deposit wagering account.

Though horse racing has been relatively slow in maximizing the information and technology available, it has been even slower recognizing its overall lack of regard for players at bricks-and-mortar facilities. Yes, it costs money to print programs, but that's the cost of doing business in a gambling business that heavily relies on data.

Do you want to educate people and get them to bet more, or save a few thousand dollars on printing costs? Do you care that you're giving a bunch of senior citizens a product they can hardly read because of the type size?

Even if online betting accounts for 35% of total U.S. handle (probably generous but good luck trying to find out the real percentage), that would mean 65% is still bet at a track, OTB parlor, or restaurant satellite facility. And even though racetracks, through Equibase and TRA, own the data, they seem to have no interest in using it to their benefit.

The more digital information there is the better, because that's where it's going. But it's folly to think a demand for printed data is going to dry up any time soon, especially at a racetrack–unless, of course, you don't care if anyone shows up anymore.

(The harness racing industry is slightly better in that most tracks print a solid live-racing program page created by the United States Trotting Association. But then most turn around and print different PPs of lesser quality for all the simulcast tracks they import. It makes absolutely no sense at face value.)

Like many aspects of horse racing, there's much that goes on beyond the scenes, and it probably never will be revealed because few will discuss, even privately, proprietary "deals" among industry "partners." Another complicating factor is the partners in Equibase prefer not to tell the other what to do despite the company's overall mission.

But a few things are apparent.

An industry that owns its own data should have uniform on-track live racing and simulcast programs–with standard speed figures–containing the best information available at the lowest possible price. An industry that continually crows for uniformity in other areas should do no less for current and future fans.

Money is being made, or saved, by various parties under this bizarre structure. Someone wins, but it's not the betting public. It rarely is.

10 Comments

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Pik4Joel

This article is long overdue. I have played and watched for over 25 years and have seen the evolution/transformation of online resources with regard to PP formats. I can honestly say that I have never purchased any PP format, or any other product, online. I don't want to buy "The Sheets" because it takes away from 30 bucks of bankroll that I would, and do, use for vertical wagers. While staying with my old-school approach I have witnessed and experienced hugely depreciated prices on vertical wagers with hidden angles where longshots finish 1st, followed by 2nd choices and that 7 to 1 that figured in third. Used to pay 350 for a dollar, now it may be 101.70 or far lower. In terms of value, and with a discussion of pool sizes aside, I know there is info that I don't want to pay for that others are using, or have programmed into their nifty XP 5000 thinking machine, that give them an advantage. That being said, I say "fine", let them spend 90 percent to win 5 percent - and they can afford to spend that much before they win that 5 percent. That is no fun to me - the challenge of gathering the available and affordable products and selecting winners based on what I think I know is the end reward. But for tracks to opt for the cheap and, either knowingly or not, withold the best product available to scrimp on pages or print size is unacceptable. That, combined with the increase in non-human pool robbery, is making me rethink playing at all. Hell, I can go to Vegas and profit on the craps table with 60 bucks - but it ain't so satisfying as that is chance, not smarts and research. This game is shooting itself in the foot... Thank you author.

19 Sep 2013 1:22 AM
Atdwya

Amen! Thank you Jesus!  Someone with the ability to get their attention has done it.  This story is right on the money. Those idiots don't have a clue. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

19 Sep 2013 9:22 AM
tpenn

Thanks for a truly wonderful and thoughtful article. So many tracks have no interest in having a well-informed or educated public;  as long as the bets are coming in, those who control the track program PPs depend on a naive public to blindly bet according to selections of the press and social contacts. Too bad; handicapping is an exciting mental game of chance and calculated risk.

19 Sep 2013 10:52 AM
JerseyTom

Learned from Indiana Downs it has control over how PPs appear in its live program, but not its simulcast programs. The simulcast programs are the Daily Racing Program produced by DRF. That answers some questions, but not the question of how racetracks have no control over their own data. So clearly there's a lot more to this.

19 Sep 2013 5:24 PM
none none

Ironically, tracks don't own the data supplied by their own races, The Jockey Club does.

The Jockey Club owns ALL of the data and they have since their inception in 1894.  Originally, the DRF was the official chart-keeper, however, Equibase took over in 1997.

Taken from Equibase website:

"In 1997 the TRA announced Equibase as the Official Database for Racing Information and Statistics, and in 1998, when the company reached an agreement with Daily Racing Form by which Equibase became the official data supplier to the venerable publication, Equibase became the sole collector of Thoroughbred past performances. This agreement to standardize racing’s statistics eliminated the duplication of effort and resulting confusion from the maintenance of two databases of racing information."

So, the powers that be COULD offer handicappers all sorts of information - but choose not to.

20 Sep 2013 4:23 PM
John from Baltimore

I just saw on this web site that the NYRA has called for added security and drug testing for the Jockey Gold Cup.  Isn't this like saying horse racing has a drug problem but we don't care enough about the every day customer to have the same security for all races.  Why would they care what is in the program if they don't care what is in the horse?

20 Sep 2013 4:42 PM
NEHF

You're right, I can't read a form to save my bank roll, I just can't squint that much for the tiny print that's poorly printed. You're right, the info is different at every track I've been to and I've been going to tracks since I was 11, that's 44 years and I still love going and I still love buying, raising, and racing these gorgeous animals.  Still you're right, the information you, me, and the rest of the fans get is lousy hard to read and it ain't gonna get any better folks. No way they're going to allow us to know industry standards; it would incriminate those of the industry. No way they're going to give enough info to make an educated guess because the guess part is what they're counting on. Counting is what they're doing with the money made from poorly determined bets, and they are not going to give up money. I'm not implying I could make a better bet if I had better info but you might make a better bet with it. I would think most bets made today would be better determined with better information, and I just don't see the tracks giving us the upper hand. I've introduced many, many people to the sport and have always had a difficult time explaining the information available and what to do with it.

22 Sep 2013 11:12 PM
Old Old Cat

A wonderful thought-provoking article.  Return on Investment, Available Capital, Operational Costs, are all driving forces in this dynamic.  These factors are driving the bettors, and the tracks, and the producers of the PPs.  As an occasional $2 exacta/trifecta/WPS bettor I’m happy with the local program, although it is somewhat skimpy even for me.  I would think the standard forms are OK with the casual occasional fan who has a very limited amount to spend, and wants a minimum amount of UNDERSTANDABLE information that he can digest without too much thinking, and can leave with some money once in a while.

A more packed local form available for additional charge (extra dollar or so) would be nice for those who are wagering in the $10 to $20 range.  More serious than that, and simulcast betting, warrants spending the $7 to $10 for one of the DRFs.      

Where the tracks could make money would be by printing (cheap mimeo) the simulcast tracks as separate forms (for a dollar or two for each track), catering to those individuals who (while lacking the computer resources to print their own tailored PPs) bet predominately one or two other tracks, but don’t spend the money to warrant getting the DRF (with useless tracks).

23 Sep 2013 6:06 PM
Michael Cusortelli

Indiana Downs' racing operation is run by a guy, Jon Schuster, who likes horse racing. Jon knows what it's like to be a customer at a racetrack.

We have guessing -- and this is just a guess -- that the person who makes the decisions on what to include in the programs at KY Downs hasn't ever been a regular racetrack customer, or even understands what's wrong with including just one past race per horse in a program.

We have the same situation at our track here in Albuquerque. If there is a full field in a live race, the track program includes just one race per horse in the PPs.

24 Sep 2013 2:57 PM
JerseyTom

Michael: Heads up, that was a KD simulcast page at Scioto Downs in Ohio. Kentucky Downs does a regular live program.

24 Sep 2013 3:40 PM

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