Pointless Punditry -
Filling Space with Nothingness
10th February, 2011
A tricky decision whether to write and publish this document. On the one hand the established Punditry group are well entrenched and mostly immune from external criticism and show very little ability for self-improvement. Time spent on this could be more usefully applied elsewhere and you would probably be as well 'moon raking'. The Previews over the years have tried to point up some of the more obvious timewasters and general logical absurdities peddled for little return. So, "Why Bother?".
A couple of reasons perhaps for gathering together enough energy to complete this now. The first would be thinking about who the 'Target Audience' would be. This probably is not a large group but an important one - the Next Generation (NG) of people who will thinking harder about what is going on in horseracing. If they start out with the view that 'success' amounts to mastering the knowledge and techniques on display in the dedicated racing media nothing is going to improve. We will get more of the same unproven, cliched, garbage broadcast for years to come. Help to get some of the NGs starting out on a more worthwhile road into racing analysis and it may help to change things, if only 'eventually'. Do nothing and you are part of the 'Problem'.
Looking back B2yoR could attest to around 20 Lost Years learning mostly garbage and then trying to unlearn much of it. The difficult problems it causes as you gradually realise how much drivel has been forced down you and just how hard it can be to accept how 'wrong' much of it was/is. Then thinking about how much things can be improved, in a much shorter period, once you break free of the mental shackles. The only useful parts of that initial period would be a basic understanding of racing in general, form reading and so on. You could easily teach someone all of this in a week and they could then practice it. Within a turf season that person would have all that mastered to a level better than that most professional pundits have with the right mind-set and assistance. Which would have left 19 years to have researched something else in the B2yoR case. The echoing waste of it.
So, to the NG readers you will not find all the answers here but hopefully the encouragement needed to do things better in future. A Mindset that starts with "We have to do better, in future we should know more...". Feel free to have the licence to question anything the Establishment proffers as received wisdom. Keep a few simple phrases in mind to judge anything you hear from them like "I think you will find it is more complicated than that"; "How do you know that? Can I see the evidence so that I can check it?", "Why haven't you put a number on that?". To misquote a famous scientist the Mindset of "Organised scepticism in the face of Expert opinion".
Read this document along with the Anthology linked articles and hopefully it will help to bring about that Mindset. Constant questioning and being dismissive of the current Authority figures that plague Racing Analysis has got B2yoR much closer to understanding what racing is about and made it more enjoyable. Oh, and more profitable if you are someone who measures success in monetary terms and has little regard for knowledge for its own sake.
The second reason for writing the document now is that B2yoR has reached the stage where the sound barely ever stays on when watching the dedicated Racing Channels and terrestrial coverage of the sport. The last time the 'Racing Post' was purchased and read? Could not put a date on it. The way someone follows racing develops as they know more and goes through real metamorphoses at times. B2yoR has got to the stage where listening to the Pundits on the TV is just annoying and a distraction to avoid. Therefore, writing a document which tries to detail some of the problems needs to be done 'Now' to have some examples to cite. Although, you feel that turning the TV off for five years and then putting the racing back on in 2016 would mean nothing would have changed. Unless the NGs are starting to do something different and taking us somewhere more exciting.
To anyone else that's reading it then you will probably disagree with many parts, perhaps hate all of it. If you do not dislike some of it then it is probably not doing its job. Having someone question your core beliefs should shake you and provoke a protective reaction of the "How can you say that.." type. Admitting that 20 years has been mostly wasted, in B2yoR's case, and ditching a lot of what you thought you knew has been painful. But, you have to let go to progress.
The rest of the discussion considers some of the problems with racing Punditry and suggests how things might be improved. The later sections ponder how we would respond to the Pundits if we were in a position to judge whether to employ them or not. But, before annoying too many people the next section sets some of the issues in a wider context on information gathering and purveying in general. The point being that these are not all Racing specific problems and understanding that might help us identify how to progress better and whether there are items to be learnt from other areas. Also, to creep up a bit on the Racing side rather than the frontal two-footed tackle.
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The 'Punditry' problems highlighted in this document are not just an issue for Racing. Many of the same factors can be seen underlying information peddling across the whole range of human activities. The increases in the means to process and present information via the broadcast media and the Internet offer great opportunities. But, how to manage this increase and use it effectively are areas where the techniques are still trying to catch up with the development of the physical technology.
In general we cannot, as individuals, check even a tiny fraction of the information pushed towards us from various sources. We could not do this fully and unaffected by items such as gossip, power cliques and false reporting if we lived in a closed group of 50 people in a village with no modern technology. With the explosion in the electronic bandwidth to force information towards us things can quickly get out of hand without some checks and controls. With the opportunities for greater knowledge & progress come a large risk of being taken in by people misrepresenting themselves and pushing 'facts' which are, at best, unverified if not plain lies.
The following three sub-sections consider three areas where the current developments can cause problems :-
Go back a few years, well a lot of years but comfortably within a human lifetime. No Internet, no mobile devices, TV of 1 or 2 channels running for a few hours in the evening. Radio and Newspapers are the main sources of information. You can easily avoid most of it without trying very hard. If you want to know about anything a little unusual you will have to work very hard to get to an original source. Over a period of around 25 years this all changes starting with an increase in the number of TV & Radio channels and 24x7 delivery. The Internet then develops from the mid-1990s and we end up with the current situation where huge amounts of information are available all the time and sources are in strong competition with each other.
The increased bandwidth is an opportunity but also a problem if you are tasked with presenting information. Developing ideas, processing information and presenting it takes a long time. An expert may have had to spend many years building up the knowledge and expertise to contribute properly to this process. This development is time consuming and expensive and the increased competition means you are working on tight budgets. This does not sound like a good starting point.
How did TV deal with this mismatch? As the great US philosopher said it was "500 channels and nothing on...". There was not a large amount of quality programmes unable to be shown because of lack of bandwidth. There was a small number but they took up little of the bandwidth. Which gets you the odd situation where today there are whole channels, presumably profitable, who only show repeats of programmes made by one of the very few sources with the time and resources to make worthwhile material. The 'Big Answer' that came up in the 1990s was to bypass the need for real experts who had something proven and worthwhile to say. Instead, get everyone involved and fill the bandwidth with Reality TV & Fly-on-the-Wall programmes. No expertise required, remove the quality bar as the alternative.
At a specific level the example of rolling News Channels can be particularly instructive. The bandwidth has to be filled but there often are not the stories and pictures to fill them. Which leads to the grisly spectacle of News Reporters who have just arrived somewhere being interviewed by some studio based link and being unable to say what they really should. Which is "... I Have only just got here and have not got a clue what is happening..". Instead making it up, extending inferences and half-baked ideas unchallenged. A performance taken up entirely by the Racing channels and a bad set-up given the Authority issues. It also encourages the News Channels to blow up nothing stories into something worthwhile and giving airtime, unchecked, to any person who wants to promote themselves. Everyone welcome so long as they help to fill the space, even if they are filling it with emptiness.
B2yoR can think back to the academic discussions that took place in the 1990s about what people would be able to do with the increased Network bandwidth that was being developed. Highbrow ideas about remote surgery, distributed Universities and the like seemed to be standard. But, like TV the bulk of the new traffic to fill the new bandwidth came from the 'get everyone involved' idea. For years it was E-Mail that provided the bulk of the network traffic and not the highbrow stuff. What are the 'Big Ideas' that drive much of the Internet use now? Social Networking, Twittering, Blogs, watching suspect content on Video warehousing sites and bidding for second-hand goods. The equivalent of 'Reality TV' stream on the Network. The bulk of society doing what they do and not 'Experts' taking time to produce considered output.
But, if you care about the quality of information available does lowering the quality threshold and getting everyone involved help? Can you recognise what this type of has brought us in Racing?
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2.2 Instant Authority
So, we have problems in being able to assess information and having to accept that others have checked the information they are purveying. Which leaves us open to being misled by 'Authority' figures. At the lesser end this misleading may be some 'Expert' being forced into giving an answer they have not researched or checked because they have been put in a position where they are forced to say something. You are simply not allowed to say "..I have nothing useful to say". At the far end are the liars who want to get across bogus information. In between are a range of sinners with the most numerous being the 'Bullshitters' who are not interested in information at all, only their own apparent worth. Getting 'Urban Myths' created and false assumptions propagated in this environment is pretty easy.
One version of this is the problem of having people working in the Media because they like being in the Media and spouting to the rest of us. At the worst end we have the Empty Show-offs (insert your own Racing example here). At the other well meaning people who are still more professional about the Media per se than about checking facts and developing new ideas. Do you get the wrong people in front of the cameras if you try to combine Analysis (information processing and summarising) with Media Presentation skills? This is a key problem with Racing where everyone thinks they can turn into a Pundit at any moment.
A good example of the problems came in a recent TV programme. A biologist called Dr Nurse had taken over as President of the 'Royal Society' and he was investigating why, in his view, Science struggles to get it's message across. The scientists are, after all, trying to take time to check information in a well defined way and only trust in other information produced to the same standards. After investigating some classic examples like 'Climategate' he again posed himself the question of why the scientific data that was produced by thorough and well meaning scientists does not get taken as seriously and be valued in the way he felt it should? He went further to suggest that there was a growing distrust of the data. [Dr Nurse's TV programme featured a standard type of self regarding Bullshitter on the anti-Science side in breaking 'Climategate'. This man clearly had his main agenda as furthering his own career. Which it did. But, it was interesting to hear him trying to describe what sort of journalism he thought he was doing. He was not an interpreter of information, he said, but an "..interpreter of other people's interpretations". Which is frightening in a number of ways if it means anything.]
Part of Nurse's own answer was to open up a Google page and do a search for 'Climategate'. A raft of Blogs, Twittering, etc., came back as the front page of offered links. Important story but anyone can say anything with no checking or substance and become a 'source' for others. Which means anyone with their own agenda can pick out any article off the Internet and pass it off as the 'Truth'. Do not engage with the complicated issues and data properly just take one item spouted by one source (scientific or perhaps just 'Authority') and base your whole thesis on that. John McCririck kept coming to mind when writing that bit. Why would that be?
Part of the fundamental problem would seem to be a mismatch between personalities. The sort of people who want to spend a years developing ideas, gathering data, wrestling with statistics and the like tend not to be natural Media Luvvies. The people at ease in the Media are experts in that field and probably have neither the time, nor the inclination, to spend a lot of time working with data. It then gets worse because even when presented with Scientific Research, or even detailed reports, the Media does not want to engage with it in a meaningful way. Instead looking to reduce it down to a simple line like "Scientists have discovered a cure for the Common Cold..." when that was not what they said at all.
A racing related example of this approach occurred in early 2011. An Australian Study had been published which was titled "An Investigation of Racing Performance and Whip Use by Jockeys in Thoroughbred Races". The type of headlines that were used were of the "Whipping horses in races is Futile" type. In this case the scientists, aided by some RSPCA media nous, seemed to have orchestrated the Press Release well enough to get this message over.
The response to Media stories you could roughly split into three camps. The thoroughbred racing insiders got huffy and blustered about what nonsense this was. Including a classic bit of "How Many Winners have you Ridden?" tosh written by Marcus Armytage and considered in that section below. The animal welfare types trumpeted away about how this proved what they always knew. A smaller set from other Equine Sports, who consider jockeys as being more than a little 'Agricultural', said that it proved what they knew. Which was that racing jockeys use the whip as a lazy alternative to being able to ride properly.
In most of the reportage it was not that obvious that many people, if any, of the groups had actually read the Study. It is not that long and, apart from the Statistical section which the authors had to get a Stats Geek in to help them with, is easily readable. If you do work through it then it opens up of range of fascinating areas for further thought and study. But, it does not 'Prove' anything one way or another despite what the headline writers say. It covered 5 races and 48 horses and, correctly, criticises it's own methods and techniques and suggests how follow-on work could improve things. It found some 'associations' and proved them to be statistically significant to a certain level but not to a level that could be reported as 'proof'. The scientists went too far, or were misreported, in the Media articles if they said they have proved 'Futility'. Take this paragraph from their own Study (in the general B2yoR spirit of "I think you will find it is more complicated than that...") :-
Text emboldened in the quote above by this author. The point being that this research reads like a Preliminary Study. An initial go at trialling your approach and methods to see whether it stands up and does anything useful. Get a handle on how to improve things for the second Full Study where the 5 races becomes 50. To hold a Press Conference after this sort of preliminary work and subject it to the Media's "Scientists have discovered a cure for the Common Cold.." approach seems a bit odd. Perhaps that was part of the idea given that the Study was funded by the RSPCA. Ultimately, this sort of Circus does not seem to move things forward and we get hot air from the trenches instead.
The results in this study do not support a conclusion that whipping cannot affect velocity of an individual Thoroughbred racehorse during the final 400 m section of a race. The absence of a significant prediction of racing success by velocity in the final 200 m section may mask different responses among horses. Highly sensitive, accurate and frequent measurements of velocity and/or position during such whipping in a large number of horses during races could address this issue.
Which is a shame because engaging with the ideas in the study and working together on a fuller trial would help everyone. The study raises some good issues about when horses reach their top speeds in races (before the whip is used in a big majority of instances) and whether how horses Learn could be applied to give a more thoughtful use of the whip in training and races. One of the most interesting points is that the Study appeared to cost AS$20,000 to produce. When you think of training fees, how much horses cost at the sales and so on this seems a piffling amount. It appears to be the first peer-reviewed bit of research on the subject although Animal Aid did a survey of 150+ races back in 2003 which used some similar ideas but without the Stats backup.
The B2yoR view would be that we ought to doing without the whip unless we have some good evidence for it's effectiveness. Not on 'welfare' grounds but on efficiency and logical thinking concerns. Jockeys bouncing around using the whip on a fatigued horse just unbalance the system and make it less efficient and cause subsidiary problems, would be the theory. The logic of it ought to be turned about and we should only be using the whip if we can prove it brings about superior performance than would otherwise occur. Rather than Welfare activists being the driver to do some research and they have to disprove the effectiveness of something that has never been proven. Challenge what we think we know and make some progress. We might find that using the whip in a particular way was much more effective than it is now, for example.
For the sake of a few tens of thousands of pounds why haven't we already started the research ourselves within racing. Come on Sheikh Mohammed, or whoever, for the price of one less horse in training this year and some proper research could get done.
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2.3 It's only Humans
This section tries to put into the Human context why the problems we can see arising generally and in horseracing can occur. There are underlying reasons in the way we are built, and react to input and situations that facilitate the development of many of the problems. The bulk of this section is drawn from the a book called 'Bad Science' written by Ben Goldacre and B2yoR fully recommends that the reader obtains that book which considers the 'Pundit' problem and the use, and misuse, of science from a Medical perspective.
Dr Goldacre includes in his book a very useful Chapter entitled "Why Clever People Believe Stupid Things". This begins by summarising how humans think naturally and why we have developed the 'scientific method' to formalise our learning. During the Evolution of Homo Sapiens (i.e., the modern human) we have gained a range of systems which think and reason informally. These are quick and efficient ways to simplify problems that need immediate attention and a decision on action. Like being chased by an animal who wants to eat you at one extreme. Setting up a scientific research project to consider the alternatives is not the right answer in that example. Use your intuition, a few rules-of-thumb and shortcuts and get on with it and see how you fare. If the techniques you use are successful then they have a better chance to get passed to the next generation.
But, these forms of thinking are not useful in many circumstances. Their quick turnaround times and simplification come at a cost. They make us vulnerable to false beliefs and unable to assess problems and situations which are counter-intuitive. To get around this you need something like the 'scientific method' to stop us fooling ourselves. We set up models of how we think things are working and run experiments to check the theories. We measure things, and use statistics to get to the bottom of what the numbers are telling us. All part of a systematic approach to which helps identify real information and authority sources from the mass of nonsense you will be subjected to.
The following bullet points list the issues Dr. Goldacre raises in his book which are typical of the problems we find when we reason informally (intuitively) and do not bother checking things, including our own thinking. After each point B2yoR has added an item in brackets to suggest how this might relate to your thinking about horseracing and Pundits.
"It's not safe to let our intuitions and prejudices run unchecked and unexamined: It's in our interest to challenge these flaws in intuitive reasoning wherever we can, and the methods of science & statistics grew up specifically in opposition to these flaws, Their thoughtful application is our best weapon against these pitfalls."
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3. Horse Racing Problems
The preceding Section dealt with some general issues
in Information Presentation by the Media. Let us now turn to how this plays
out with Racing Punditry. The amount of racing and close to 365 days per
year output clearly bring particular issues with lack of time to absorb
and analyse the information. But, that cannot be an excuse which allows
any standard of Punditry to be produced so long as it fills the space.
The following sub-sections are a summary of some of the main issues B2yoR
3.1 Lack of Foundations
Imagine you have been asked to stand in front of an audience and speak for long periods about a certain subject. Before you accepted such an assignment the average person would want to be sure they were pretty expert at the subject. They would probably have had some formal training in the discipline and would be able to describe the fundamental principles it rested on. These fundamentals would not vary from expert to expert but would be a model of how the system that was the subject of the talking really 'worked'. Discussion of the subject during the talk would refer to the fundamentals and consider how the current item related to it and how subtle changes might affect the outcomes. If these foundations are absent what can the presentation amount to?
We could take a simple example to make the point and think about TV Cookery Shows. One of the human undertakings that take up vast acres of Media output. Whatever you think of the presenters as personalities how would their experience match up to the expectation of the previous paragraph? You could make a case that it fits well. Food preparation has some clear foundations worked out over long years about what foodstuffs to use and mix, how and when to apply heat, what flavours to mix and so forth. The presenter has been trained in this and knows the theory of what they are doing to the food during the preparation and cooking. Many will be able to describe what chemical reactions are going on for example and therefore know how to get the best results by using that understanding. Even better, the foundations they are talking about have been tested repeatedly over the years and proven scientifically. There is a huge body of published Scientific Research on preparing foodstuffs.
Now let us take the example of Racing Punditry and think about applying the same tests. What fundamental principles are there that the Pundit could point to? Someone might say the 'Form Book'. Well, this is not a principle related to how the system works. It is a listing of what horse's finished in what positions and the distances between them along with the SPs. There might be some extra information but these will personal opinions of another Pundit acting as a reporter and not based on any fundamental principles. A description of how the horse ran perhaps in some standard format.
All very well but none of this fits what we need as a foundation. They are opinion based descriptions which should be related to some Framework which informs the choice of what information to record and how to use it. Like the Chemical Foundations of applying heat to Foodstuffs. B2yoR's foundations would start with Powerballs, Efficiency Tests (Races) and so on and the worth and shape of any other information used has to relate to this. You can the record information about factors which you think matter within the overall Framework and not just any data you happen to like using.
Now, let us ask all the Pundits stood before you to write down the Fundamental Principles their analysis rests on. What would you like to bet that we get? We will almost certainly get a different list from each one of them which hints strongly at a lack of foundations. At the Top Level probably nothing that would really count as a 'Principle' but instead things like The Form Book, Time Figures, Pedigrees and perhaps even Handicap Ratings. All tools whose worth should be able to be related to some underlying Framework which will be missing. These tools will then often be mis-applied by the Pundit in whatever form they feel comfortable using it for. Nothing like the Cooks in the example above. If you asked any of the Pundits for some research or data which proved the worth of the tools and approach they were using you would be very lucky to get a worthwhile response.
To make the point about a Framework B2yoR would have a fundamental principle about Powerballs and the energy reserves they have and the most efficient ways to use them. Time Figures are a useful tool if well produced in getting an understanding of what amount of Energy each Powerball has. Pedigrees may hold some use in understanding the statistical likelihood of the Energy reserves and output characteristics of an individual horse. But, there are better ways of trying to get to the real figures by looking at the Phenotype (what the horse in front of you actually looks like) than statistical legerdemain on the possible Genotype (the genes it inherited). All of which is well beyond what the Pundit will actually be using the tool for, of course. In an old-fashioned sport which still allows people to talk about 'Bloodlines' and the like and not be laughed at the Pundit will get an easy ride whatever they say. Horses, along with everything else do not inherit 'Blood', by the way. But try asking a Pundit, while they are pontificating about Pedigrees (or it's Weasel Word alternative - 'Breeding'), what it is they actually inherit causatively, and how?
Handicap Ratings got a sort of question mark in the section above because many Pundits clearly see this area as too high-powered for them. Which is a real problem because understanding horse Class levels and how they interact with the Handicapping System is absolutely Fundamental to the training any Pundit should have. But when they instead use phrases like 'Number Juggler' and 'Black Art' when faced with what the BHA handicappers do, we probably have the wrong people on the case.
One of the clichés that has become current in British racing recently has been the phrase "It's a Game of Opinions...., isn't it". Well, no it bloody isn't. It is of necessity if there are no foundations or principles and every half-baked, unchecked idea has equal value. Start putting some structure in place and doing some checking and we can then split Fact from Opinion. You can have an opinion on which version of the meal the cooks produce tastes best but not on the facts of what reactions and processes are taking place to prepare them. Make everything seem like a bit of 'Voodoo' like the Pundit and you can get away with your take on opinions.
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3.2 Instant Experts
Horse Racing seems particularly open to this problem and even more so than the Media norm. The average Cook on the TV probably has a tougher time getting to the position of 'Expert'. Racing lacks any real foundations and there is no set of information, techniques and tools you need to have mastered to become 'qualified'. Not even an NVQ required. Which means that anyone who likes the sport and has spent a bit of time looking through the basics of form, accepted clichés, and the like is ready to try-out. The sort of amateur hopefuls who would have to go on 'Master Chef' competitions in the Cookery line would be easily qualified to be full-time Racing professionals in the standard of 'training' in that area. Many would be miles ahead because they are committed to the practice of their cooking craft and are not Media types and shortcutters that can often find places to spout in Racing.
A related problem is that the split between Media Presenter and Pundit is simply never respected in Racing. All the presenters think that Media skills are not enough and have to start with the analysing. Many of these people have multiple jobs and would not have the time to be Pundits even if they had the abilities. A good example would be someone like Bob Cooper. He isn't that good as a presenter but has somehow survived. He is good at wandering about the racecourse and interviewing people. His shambolic approach seeming to put the interviewee at their ease and they help him out and fill the gaps he leaves. But, then the Pundit bit has to start and he is hopeless at it and will tell you so by making disparaging remarks himself about most of the information and tips he imparts.
If you had children and found out the local school were selecting teachers the way Racing Pundits were chosen you would be horrified. No training, no qualifications, just a set of people who have shown some interest in the subject and have managed to pop out of a haphazard selection process. They can then sit there and spout analysis using whatever ragbag subset of shoddy tools they choose because no-one checks what they are doing. There are no standards. 'Success' is filling empty airspace or newsprint and quality does not enter the discussion.
Very few exceptions but a chink of light with someone like Hugh Taylor on Attheraces. Take an anorak who spends his time locked away looking at races and prodding databases and you start to get some hints of more interesting thinking. Mr Taylor also appears to have no Media luvviness in him and a healthy respect for how difficult the 'Game' is. He is aware enough to know you have never 'Cracked It' and dismisses the gushing praise the other Pundits try to put onto him. But, a rare instance in the sea of media amateurs.
The biggest disappointments in this line would be the young men (still all male) that Timeform regularly push towards the TV channels. Surely here there will be some trained people with something new to offer? Absolutely not. A group of indistinguishable young men talking the same, stunted, Timeform view of the world that would be recognisable from decades ago. Perhaps the Betfair take-over has not shaken out the tired old thinking in Halifax, after all.
While writing this the thought came to mind of when anyone younger involved in Punditising has said something that stopped you dead. Someone who made you think "Hang on, that is a really interesting take on horseracing, I have never thought, or heard, of that...". In the B2yoR case that feels like a depressing thought. Where are the lively New Generation who are going to shake things up? Take us further in understanding racing and improving analysis and punditry. They are not visible and is that because they do not exist because the system cannot produce them or are they out there but never getting into the Game?
Thinking back a shortlist of people who had said something at least interesting that you might look at (not groundbreaking but worth thinking about) would not get much past Hugh Taylor, James Willoughby plus jockeys Richard Hughes and Dettori along with trainer John Naylor. Oh, and perhaps Jim Goldie if his brief asides about his training techniques in 2010 were properly understood. The Pundit interviewing him, multitasking again, did not seem to grasp how novel what he said was so let the chance to find out something interesting slip away.
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3.3 The Market
And it gets worse. Put a lot of underqualified chancers in charge of Punditry and give them a lot of time to fill. They have not done much work on the races of the day and they have little to say. They lack any Framework to their analysis so they cannot spend time putting the races into any wider context or perhaps analysing how they might be run. How about considering efficiency issues over the distance and course the horses will face and placing those in context of the trainers' methods or the jockeys' choices in the race? Ok, perhaps not realistic in the current set-up which has given us the Institutionalised Mediocrity that we have.
What are we going to do? What we really could do with is a simple external input that we can build up as The Story in it's own right. Ideally it would be produced by someone else automatically and would change and adapt through to the start of the race. Perhaps it would be best if it could be presented as the indications of knowledge of other people who have done some work. If it had a bit of a statistical feel that no-one really understood and allowed anyone to pontificate about it in any way that would be good. If it gave the spouter an air of 'Insider' knowledge but was unverifiable then that would be even better. We really need that 'something' we can use as a replacement for knowing anything ourselves. And Lo!, the Fourth King pulled 'The Market' out his bejewelled box.
Just to be clear this means 'The Betting Market'. The lists of Prices and Exchange figures that are the current Odds you could get if you wanted to Back (mostly) or perhaps lay your choice of horse. Now, the audience reading this are probably already getting twitchy because you have been brainwashed, beaten senseless in truth, by the Pundits with the belief that 'The Market' is the core of everything. In the B2yoR view this reached a nadir with one e-mail to a Racing Channel on the lines of "...Since the Market is a perfect reflection of a horse's chances and all the insiders know what is going to win should I give up on form study and just follow the Market...". One of the most miserable, defeatist, pitiful sentiments you could wish not to have to hear. Just awful.
Now, who is to blame here? How much has the writer of that e-mail been misled and mis-served by the Pundits? How do ATR start their coverage every day? With 'Market Movers'. How many people do Channel 4 have reporting on The Market at each meeting? Two at present. The e-mailer might be guilty of nothing more than being a bit too trusting of Authority figures, on reflection.
A hard line is going to be taken here as with jockeys and whips. We are going to take away using whips for 'encouragement' on horses until they can prove there is some point to using them and they have the nous to use them appropriately. The same approach should be applied to Pundits and 'The Market'. It can be read out as a list of available prices but no unproven inferences (perhaps deductions) can be drawn. Using it as the basis of the entire story of the race and inventing insider knowledge and motives that there is no evidence for are out. Which would silence a number of Pundits entirely, wouldn't it Dave? As with the jockeys you can have some use of it back when you have proven some value and causation in it's use and that you are competent to comment. Until then, do some proper work and stop making it up.
The Pundits love of 'The Market' as the story has a range of negative affects on racing in general. There is a wrongheaded belief that Racing only exists for Betting and that a fundamental part of the sport's attraction is it's association with dodgy characters and behaviour. Try looking at the ludicrous 'Flash Harry' characterisation that the BBC's website uses for it 'Horse Racing' explanation page as a good example. Just mindbogglingly out-of-date and harmful to Racing. The following is a quote from a previous article on trainer's methods which gets over the B2yoR view with some energy.
There are also a small set of people who work very hard at getting information from Contacts. They spend pretty much their whole time chasing around anyone connected to horses who will talk to them. They will try to talk to as many people involved in an individual race as they can. Aiming to size up the whole race and integrate the snippets they get into a full story. Over a period these people will gain expertise in which people are reliable sources and how to value the information gained. Even then, they are not finding edges in every race, let alone gambles. The hard work will find them opportunities where they think the prices on offer are wrong. In the same way that hard work in any other worthwhile race analysis will.
This is not what the Pundits are doing. They want to believe in a crooked world of plots, gambles and information because they are desperate people who have space to fill and nothing to say or write. One person suggesting to them that a 2yo running on the day is "alright" and there is a full scale GAMBLE going on by the Big Brains according to the Pundit by race time. Remember also that Pundits, being Human, will only mention the perceived Gambles that won after the race. To preserve the fantasy they are attached to.
Becoming an expert in maths, Markets or contacts is not an area B2yoR wants to master but respects those who do that work diligently to find their edge in betting. Knowing about the horse as an athlete and how that underpins what you see in the rest of Racing seems like a more interesting approach.
Remember that even a good Market has limits on the information it knows. It is always working with a certain amount of unpredictable 'Chaos' in the system and never has a complete set of data to work with. Do not believe the hype that the "..Market knows everything and is perfect reflection of chances" that comes in Racing but also in Economic circles. Even if modern technology has improved the Market's aim it will never be perfect. You could make a good case that the technology has made GAMBLES in the fantasy underworld sense less likely. The days when you could plot a huge gamble by cutting the single telephone line to a low-grade racecourse are long gone. Unfortunately, for the Pundits still dreaming about how that world still exists.
The improvement in The Market does mean that you have to work harder to find an edge. You probably have to try different approaches and do some research and this is exactly what the Pundits are not doing. From the B2yoR side Paddock Review and the information gained by looking at horses before races still finds a solid number of betting opportunities. That information is still not incorporated into The Market in any complete or orderly way. If the day comes when it is then time to move onto a different approach (Efficiency handicapping, etc). Not 'Give Up' but work hard at some new ideas.
If you are a slack-jawed Pundit whose race analysis does not get beyond a flick through the Form Book & some waffle about siblings and ground preferences then you will find that The Market knows a lot more than you do. In betting you are competing, long-term, against all the other people using The Market. They will have a distribution of abilities and knowledge and your job is to be a better judge of what constitutes the 'Right' price (the odds available) than enough of your competitors to make a profit. As The Market gets better informed it means the standard of opponent you are facing is improving so you have to get better as well. The Pundit is getting left behind and so are you if you are listening to them.
If you look to examples from the Economic Markets one successful Hedge Fund Manager says the following about his best Traders (the people making his 'risky' bets) "They have to be comfortable with the mathematics because this demonstrates you understand the problem, but the successful traders, in my opinion, have the best intuition, a gut feeling for when to take the risk, not necessarily the best mathematicians...". You could translate that into Racing terms and think about what 'Mathematics' you need to be comfortable with and, more importantly, how you develop that 'gut feeling'.
B2yoR would say that Paddock Review is a good way to develop it and it gives you that 'Whole' view of Racing so that, at times, you just 'know' what is going to happen. The only other examples of people talking that way, in B2yoR's experience, came from people who worked hard at Classical Paddock Review or Sectional Times. But, gaining 'enough' experience so that the intuition develops to this level is hard work and takes time. Not things the Pundits are likely to achieve.
And finally, if you want an example of big brains believing they have the Market cracked because it is 'Perfect' and knowable in mathematical terms look up the story of 'Long Term Capital Management'. Think about the role that Nobel Prize winning Quantitative Mathematicians Merton & Scholes played in this debacle and how understanding the Maths of the Markets is not enough. In the end The Market always contains some amount of messy unpredictability which you can exploit and there will always be people shoving money into it that know less than you do if you work hard enough, and smart enough. Stop thinking about Markets in the fantasy terms that Pundits do and we could fill the broadcast space with some really useful Market analysis instead.
[Update :- The book "When Genius Failed" by Roger Lowenstein gives a very readable account of the market modelling and human frailities which combined to produce the LTCM implosion. A large number of lessons to be learned from the debacle. For example, a prime one would be for any mathematical analysis of this type that you should not get lost-in-your-own-Model as if were reality. Remember the large assumptions you made to render the model tractable. Another would be that you always need more input data to calibrate your model even if it works to some extent. Unlike the LTCM wizards who put in a few previous years of Market data from relatively calm trading periods into their model, then were baffled when the model failed to predict the scale and alarming rate of their losses when the trading waters became turbulent. Your input sample size has to minimise the chance that your model will output garbage when faced with real, but outside of your sample, events (Fat Tails, Black Swans, or whatever terminology you prefer). All knowledge is provisional. ]
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3.4 Analysis On The Hoof
The need to fill space combined with a lack of time to do real thinking and analysis is a problematic mix in many ways as noted. Especially dangerous when the Pundit is given no time at all to do the analysis. The race had just finished and the horses have streamed past the line. Straight back to the Pundits and they are expected to start coming up with summaries of what happened in the race immediately. Talking over the replays with definitive statements about race quality, how it developed and the future for the horse's involved. No easy way of putting this other than to be blunt. This sort of analysis 'on the hoof' with no time to assimilate the information is close to worthless. The Pundits should not be made to comment in this way and the lack of any Framework to place the analysis into exacerbates the issues.
Take the post race analysis of a 2yo maiden where the field have finished well spread out. If you used a structure like the Changeover Point/Garbage Gap that B2yoR often thinks in one you could have a good discussion about whether this race fit that model. Ponder around whether the pace spread the abilities out well or whether something else was happening. Then push a bit further and think about OR figure you would put on this performance in light of the preceding discussion. No need to come to any definitive conclusions but propose a theory that can be tested going forward. Perhaps consider how that model fits with what you know about trainers' methods.
What you are more likely to get are definitive statements over how good the form is based on how well known the trainers are of the prominent finishers. Things will then get dangerous as the Pundits start looking for 'Eyecatchers'. Give them a head-on view which compresses the apparent distance beaten by the stragglers and give them minutes to fill and problems will start. The longer it goes on the more of the horses behind will have been fingered as promising and likely improvers next time. No structure to this thinking just the pressure of having to fill space expanding the number on the list. Desperate people make desperate decisions, do not put them in these sort of situations.
Let us further consider a less obvious example of Race Commentators, many of whom are also Pundits as well in this multi-tasking world. Harmless enough you might perhaps imagine with the men (all males still) just telling the relative positions of the horses and which horse is, literally, carrying which colours. If the guys left it at that then that would be fair comment. But, as with most media types in racing, they feel they have to start with the analysis and telling people how to think. This nonsense can start early in the race with them feeling they need to tell us how fast the race is being run. The Pace of a race is such a key factor to producing the final result that trusting one person watching it live on a monitor is tremendously dangerous. Basing your views on Thompson, or whoever, telling you "..they are not hanging about here..." is not going to get the job done in the long term.
But, the real problems start with the pay-off line at the climax of the race. All the talk before the race has been about how Sea The Stars (or Frankel, and so on) is the re-incarnation of Nijinsky, or Secretariat, or whatever your personal pinnacle of racehorses is. The Media want a simple story so the Headline has already been written before the race and formed much of what passed for pre-race analysis. The field are coming to the line and, an unusually sweaty & fractious, Sea The Stars manages to get home first despite his state. He has beaten Youmzain by a little bit like every winner does. But, here goes the commentator with his, pre-scripted, analysis of what you have just seen. - "one of the All-Time Greats puts up one of the All-Time great performances....astonishing stuff....".
You are a younger person trying to get a handle on what is going on in racing, or an occasional racegoer who wants to know more. Brainwashed before the day and then put away on the line by another Authority figure in the commentator. You know what you saw and it was incredible. Then the handicappers, who are paid for more reflective analysis and are working based on some worthwhile principles, get going and the figures say it was just an ok effort. Certainly not an All-Time great one. Then everyone gets upset with the handicapper and he starts trying to sugar his pill by talking about Sea The Stars' "Body of work" and things are out of control. Wrong person in the Dock, your honour. It was the pre-race Pundits and the commentator wot dun it.
Now, you might consider youself a bit above this characterisation. You are a mature racegoer who thinks about things a bit more and has a better understanding of what is going on. You are not going to get taken in by a commentator. You may be less susceptible but you are not immune. We are going to do a little Psychology test to prove this point. Here is a Video of a race from a foreign Country so you have no immediate clues as to who the horses, jockeys etc. are. You have no idea what quality this race is being shown. The various groups (novice Racegoer, well versed, expert) are going to split into two. Both groups will be shown the same video but with different commentaries.
Let us say the race is from Chile and the winner in steaming clear by a double figure number of lengths towards the line and is not stopping. One commentator is ecstatically shouting "Simply supreme, a majestic performance from the best horse the country has ever bred. Unparalleled...". In the other the deadpan voice-over will be saying "..well the 1 to 10 favourite is coming home well clear there but in a slow time. That was probably the worst maiden run this side of the Andes since the thoroughbred got here....". With no other information you will now have to do a number of tasks to rate that horse, analyse it's previous and next runs in Video review, etc. B2yoR would not mind betting you would be watching live races with the sound turned down in future.
At the anecdotal level B2yoR has sometimes watched a video of some crappy, eight runner, maiden at Wolverhampton numerous times and still had to walk away admitting that what was going on in the race is an unknown. The horses have been paddock reviewed, the trainers involved are well known and their methods also definable. The dynamics of races at the track are known within the technique B2yoR uses and the time they took to do the first two furlongs taken. But, the race just did not unfold in a sensible way compared with the known factors. It will become clear at some point during the season but after a period of thought and extra information is available. Meanwhile, the commentators are shouting all the answers as the horses approach the line.
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3.5 Trilbies, Flat 'ats & Tweeds
The title of the section alluding to the fact that, to give Pundits a bit of a break, they are not working in the most dynamic, forward thinking of environments. Racing has an old-fashioned outlook and takes a long time to progress. In British racing currently the 'Racing For Change' project gets demonised before anyone has listened much. Suggest that the British Flat racing season needs a better structure (a view B2yoR would support) and what do you get? Pundits, along with many other streams in racing, setting up the use of the word 'Narrative' as a surrogate for an imagined Bogey figure and start attacking it. But with no real reasons beyond the fact that everything is already fine.
But, no it is not and a newcomer to the sport would struggle to understand what the current progression was. In the US they used to have the equivalent of a 'Premier Race Series' in the early 1990s which was successful and they are currently murmuring about how they might need to revive it. Their older horse Top Grade races do not have the natural pattern anymore and do not compete well with other sports for general coverage.
Suggest that racing would be better for the everyone if number-cloths had bigger figures and the Pundits will be unimpressed. If it is such an obvious thing to do why has it taken this long to get it done? Part of the problem is the cumbersome decision making structure in racing but in general the sport is not particularly forward looking or welcoming to change.
We could look at Pundits in relation to trainers and how they go about training horses. The average Pundit would have little idea what a training programme for any horse amounted to. Unlike the US, we simply do not get any regular information about horses' work and how they are progressing in it. Which encourages the Pundits to fall back into seeing training as a Black Art where you just have to trust to the professionals. Many of the trainers for their part are probably happy with this sort of set-up. They may not think that what they do at home is any business of the Pundit or the general public.
If we could get a handle on training techniques in use we would almost certainly be surprised by how old-fashioned they were. A lot of 'Touch and Feel' stuff from people who are passing this approach down the generations. Anyone time any of their horses? If so, what is the framework for assessing this and how does this feed back into the training? How many of them regularly weigh them? More of them but still not a full set. Can we have the information? Thought not.
Here is champion trainer Richard Hannon's son quoted on their website - "Some trainers swear that they learn so much from weighing their horses, but dad has never had a set of scales on the premises, and I'd back his judgement against anyone". He then goes on to further talk up his father with "Dad insists that you cannot beat your own two eyes, which he feels act like a dial, and he would rather rely on what he sees first-hand than a kilo either way". More of the 'Touch and Feel' bit. Do not measure anything but carry on with the Black Arts handed down through the years approach.
But, clearly difficult for a thrusting Pundit to move things forward in this area. Even if they had the desire to improve the information they got and incorporate that into their work it would be an uphill battle to get it, if it even existed. B2yoR is very interested in getting more of this training information and solving it becomes a licensing matter. You agree to provide a certain amount of information when you apply for a training licence. Mr Hannon can carry on using his eyes, but someone in his yard can stick each horse on a weighbridge and read off the number.
This old-fashioned approach extends to other areas of the sport and measuring anything, checking it against a theory and interpreting the results would be very rare. Then you have to factor in that the Pundits have to be nice to the participants to get anything out of them at all. Not a structure that is going to facilitate improvements to the quality of Punditry. An insider clique cloaking much of what they do and limited access to the information sources to anyone who displeases them. Much more helpful to institutionalising the mediocrity in information provision and what the Pundit can provide.
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3.6 How many Winners have you ridden?
In a system where there is no training and no career path one answer to finding Pundits seems obvious. Get in someone who used to be involved in Racing professionally, or still is, and get them to do it. They must have the knowledge and expertise to pass on by dint of their job alone. Because they have bypassed some of the more usual Pundit Nurseries they might bring a different slant and not be infected with the usual guff.
They have not spent years working for SIS or one of the bookmakers' Live Audio feeds. Broadcasting non-stop about whatever betting opportunity is being pushed at you next. Greyhounds, Racing from all over the world, 49s, and on and on. Clag together whatever you can to fill the space down to you for the 11.37 from Flamingo Park before being expected to prattle on about the Lottery replacement. A nice theory but it does not seem to work like that.
At root we have the original problem in that sitting down analysing data, thinking deeply about what is really going on and coming to worthwhile conclusions takes time and effort. It is a real, full-time job. Getting people in who are still employed in the sport is just wrong in this set-up. They already have busy jobs and cannot, by definition, have the time to do the analysis and thinking required. Now, if they were brought in to provide a particular view about training or riding this might work. A specialist Horsey Pundit role, perhaps?.
But this does not happen and instead you get an even more confused mix then the usual set-up of Presenter/Analyst where both people play the same Ragbag Pundit role. The Horsey Pundit immediately drops into the accepted 'Pundit' cliche lingo and blathers on about stables being 'on fire' and the like. If, like B2yoR, you start from the view that we have an old-fashioned industry with unproven foundations then you have to be very careful about who you pick anyway. Given there will be a wide distribution of 'Pundit' abilities within jockeys and trainers and you are likely to end up with the ones who want to be in the Media (a problem in itself) the chances of getting a good one are slim.
If you listen to younger jockeys being interviewed in can be dispiriting if you have some hopes for the Next Generation improving things. The majority of them, even the youngest teenagers talk in Punditspeak cliche from their first appearance on camera. They have been watching the dedicated racing coverage and have already been infected. You suspect that a lot of the trainers and jockeys talk in this lightweight way in real life. Even if they had something interesting to say on the 'Horsey' side when roped in as a Pundit they rarely do. The racing world is a closed one where you are not allowed to say anything which might be considered negative or giving away secrets. So your Horsey Pundit cannot say something helpful in that area even if they could.
The retired jockeys we have as Pundits at present do not suggest that they have brought anything different to the area. We seem to have got the ones who wanted to be in the media and are happy to play the expected role. The same issues of not upsetting anybody apply to them and they have the extra problem of not wanting to stitch mates up. So, we get more of the standard fare of form analysis based upon nothing worthwhile.
On ATR, in particular, we get a lot of matey ex-jockey banter which would be fine if it stuck to just trying to be entertainment. But the confusion of roles comes straight back in and they are now Presenters, Horsey Pundit, Entertainers and full Pundit in one unhappy crush. Again, unfortunate but nothing worse than the standard punditry guff until someone happens to mildly criticise one of their mates, or suggest that they might not have based their analysis on anything. Here it comes, "...how many winners have you ridden?...".
You get the same thing in Football where Pundits are nearly entirely ex-players with the old "...how many Caps have you got.." line. There you can see some old player getting upset because the referee has sent someone off for a clear transgression of the current rules. The old-timer will prattle on about how it was 'Handbags' when in reality it was a criminal offence in the real world and a stone-bonking sending off. The ex-player will not have bothered keeping up with new rules and developments so will just bluster despite being wrong. Having been professionally employed in an activity does not mean you are the best person to comment.
The "...how many winners have you ridden?..." approach does lots of things wrong. It links having been professionally involved with the ability to analyse and comment without any question. It suggests that the people who were most visible are the best people to speak for the sport. You could turn it around and say that players were just the pawns on the field and we should be seeking to talk to the tactics gurus instead. If you wanted to know about getting a rocket to the moon are the Astronauts the best people to talk to? "How many moons have you been to?..". If you end up being a Pundit you are demonstrating that you are more interested in talking about things rather than doing them anyway. Are you keeping up with the new developments? This could go on but you get the point, hopefully.
At the core the "...how many winners have you ridden?..." formulation is nothing more than Bullying. Used by people who presumably know they are on shaky ground and do not know how to put together a properly constructed argument in favour of their chosen position. Instead, just try and intimidate someone else by appealing to some vague 'insider' value. Pathetic, and if that is the best you can do you are demonstrating your inability to be a worthwhile Pundit. Unfortunately, people let it work at times and Richard Hoiles is a good example. Hoiles has shown signs that he recognises some of the faults with Punditry and made some small attempts to try something different. But, as soon as someone with a bit more of a 'Horsey' background says anything negative he backs down and defers. Bullied out of it.
A good example of this from the written media came from Marcus Armytage's (".. How many Grand National winners have you ridden") in his response to the reports about the "Futility of Whip Use" from the Australian Study. Here we have a well educated man working for a major newspaper so we are going to get a well considered bit of comment, surely? We do not, instead we get a rant and a bit of top level bullying. He shows no sign of having read the Australian Study and because it is far from a watertight bit of work it could have been usefully dissected by him.
He started by blaming the Australian RSPCA for getting National Hunt racing banned in Australia (not relevant, M'Lud, even if it were ever proven to be true). Then spent several paragraphs explaining to the rest of us simpletons how the Whip affects the horses' nervous and hormonal systems. But, based on his anecdotal beliefs as far as you could tell and with no references to any scientific sources (hearsay & inadmissable evidence). If you really know all this Marcus then let us pester someone for a few tens of thousands of pounds and we should get a study done.
Then the bullying starts and he gets Tony McCoy in to give his view on the whip because "He should know something about the subject having persuaded well over 3,000 horses to pass the post first." Where have we seen that format before? He then hitches himself to this by using the phrase "This opinion [McCoy's] is one that many of us who have ridden can agree with." after McCoy has helpfully responded to his mate's request (conflicted interests?, M'Lud, does Mr McCoy employ a relation of Mr Armytage?).
McCoy is a good jockey and a decent man by all accounts but having ridden a lot of winners does not make him best qualified to run a scientific study on the use of the whip on equines. Might get a job on the study as a special advisor but to make use of his knowledge in an organised way. The Australian Study used the skills of two Racing Stewards, for example, to help with assessing what counted as a 'Whip Use' under the local rules. On another tack what about all those experienced riders from other Equine sports who think jockeys are uncouth carpet-beaters. Are they going to accept being bullied when faced with someone who has managed to wrestle home any number of winners against other jockeys?
[McCoy's supporters, at the time of writing this, were having to the use the "3,000+ winners.." stuff to protect him from criticism within racing. Bizarre as that sounds. The beef from the other side being that he was a less than multi-dimensional jockey and suited to certain types of horses and rides. This having been kicked off by his replacing the injured Ruby Walsh on a number of the Nicholls' stable stars with varying results. The core of the problem being that despite all his winners he seemed less naturally assured and less of a 'horseman' than the more stylish Walsh (McCoy's tenant & mate as the entwined, closed, world of Racing shows through again).]
Just to wrap this nonsense up. Your article is a piece of bullying Marcus and counts neither as journalism nor comment. Please try to be more thoughtful and constructive in future.
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As a huge generalisation people in the media tend to have a hard time accepting criticism and that anything they have presented to us is less than ideal. If they read this discussion document then most would dismiss it as nonsense. The few that acknowledged there might be even a small bit of something worthwhile in it would almost certainly start reaching for some excuses. These would be on the basis of how much time they have to fill, how little money they have, how they do not have the time to do any more developments. Well, at least we are starting to get some 'Principles' from them. They need things that are cheap, easily expandable and are quick acting. How about we replace all the Pundits with human sized balloons?
A solid approach is to have no truck with these "What else can I do?..." responses. They are 'Counsels of Despair' and really tell us the person is too idle to do some thinking and improve things. What follows is split into two parts and tries to suggest some ideas for improving things. The first is a set of bullet points which pulls out some ideas and principles from the previous discussion. Following that is a suggestion for an alternative approach which would cost nothing or very little. But, would give a framework to the Pundits to work to. This actually makes the space easier to fill than the current system because you are responding too, and building upon, a body of knowledge. The current approach of a Pundit being able to say anything usually peters out pretty quickly because of the lack of any framework that is built on.
Let us start with some of the general points :-
Now, let us turn to an idea for grounding some of the Punditry in a framework and think about how that can improve the quality but also the quantity (if you are a TV programme producer only interested in filling space somehow). B2yoR likes to think that there are a raft of people out there doing interesting things analysing racing whose work never gets seen elsewhere. Having met some of them the personality split between the type of person who does this sort of quiet reflection mixed with hard graft and the type that ends up spouting in the media is apparent. How to bridge this divide is a tricky one but you ponder about a 'Geek of the Week' feature or some such.
Anyway, here is a vaguely
geeky idea which we shall call 'Efficiency Handicapping'. This can be used
on the all-weather to size up races before they are run and the analyse
how the race was run afterwards. At it's simplest you can record two bits
of data about how each horse runs a race and these build up into a record
for each horse that can be compared to how well it performed. The data
can also be analysed on a Course by Race Distance basis to develop a picture
of what ways of running a race are most efficient and produce a good Strike
Rate. You can plot one bit of data against the other to produce a diagram
which displays how efficient and successful certain ways of running a race
are. Here is a sample diagram for a sub-set of races over one distance
at one of the British all-weather courses :-
The efficiency theory says that the best way to run a race is to combine the two factors exactly which produces a line from the Top Left Square down to the Bottom Right (1-1, 2-2, etc). Each square representing a way of combining the two factors to run the race in a particular manner. It is possible for at least one horse in every race to be ridden in a manner that would fit in any square. The numbers represent the Strike Rate (wins percentage) for the set of horses that ran the race in the particular combination in a sample of 47 handicap races. Where the squares are blank the Strike Rate was Zero and none of the horses that ran their races that way managed to win.
Now, if efficiency did not matter the winners would be spread randomly around the grid with no pattern. That does not appear to be what happens and, over this Course and distance, there appears to be a set of winners developing which respect the efficiency line to some extent. The top left and bottom right corners appear to be missing or under-represented which is telling us something interesting about how the factors combine negatively in some 'extreme' combinations on this course configuration. If you get a line of winners that respect the efficiency line in sloping Top Left to Bottom right but is above or below the central line it is telling you that one of the factors is more important than the other and 'pulling' the most efficient way to run a race towards it. If you get winners spread all over the grid randomly then this course and distance is a game of Equine 'Musical Chairs' and you should be very wary of betting at all. More work is needed to see what other factors are intervening to mess up the usual linkage here.
What about that line of three cells down the left hand column towards the bottom. What is that about? That island of success appears in most Course & Distance combinations and is a strong indicator that a particular way of running a race is very efficient. If you are able to identify horses before a race which have a good chance of running the race in that combination you should take it very seriously.
Armed with this approach and tool you now have a framework to analyse any all-weather race. Not a case of how to fill the time but instead how to cram it all in. Once you understand the efficiency issues it can be used to link to many other forms of Punditry to give a base. Look at the diagram above and place each horse on it before the race since you have a list of number combinations that the horse tends to produce. Are they placed on one of the islands of success or in one of the blank areas? Since trainers' instructions and how the jockey rides the race directly affect the combinations you can go and ask them what there plans are and if they are going to do something different.
The Market can then be consulted in the correct manner which is to check whether the prices on offer seem like good value given your analysis. Not to be the analysis. You have a short priced favourite whose typical way of running a race is sat smack in the middle of one of the blank spaces on your diagram. You should be worried and looking for alternatives. Want to talk about handicapping? We can bring that in too. If you think in these efficiency terms you start to get a feel for how much a horse needs to have in hand to overcome a negative combination. B2yoR would suggest a figure of 5-7lbs as standard and we can now start talking about horses winning under a penalty sensibly. If you see a horse come home more than 2 lengths clear in any sensibly run handicap they probably had more than 10lbs in hand and should win next time.
Want to bring in your favourite Pundit tool for old time's sake? You can now because if you can quantify how much difference it will make to the horse's performance we can think about factoring it in. Got a horse sitting on one of those success islands and you think the first-time blinkers are going to give a 5lbs of improvement. Now, I might be a bit interested. Want to do some post-race analysis 'On The Hoof'? It can help you there too. We can quickly give you the combinations that the first three ran to and compare it to the norm. Something odd happened and a winner in an unusual manner? At least we know it and can go looking for the causes. Will we see the same pattern in the next race or has the track preparation, or strong wind on the day produced unusual conditions? We can spot that after the first race and track it with something to compare it against.
We could go on but time to call enough. You do not have to put up with an array of hack Pundits working through their Lucky Dip bag of unproven nonsense. We can all do better. We could try something like the above, or another good idea. Or we could spend the rest of our lives listening to Jason telling us a horse is going to win because "my mate gets a right good old tune out of it..". Or perhaps Zoe will put us right by imparting that the horse will win because ".. Jamie Spencer has bothered to get his arse down here for one ride..". We made that bit up, she did not really say 'Arse'. It was 'Backside'. Or perhaps Captain Cliche can save the day with his unrivalled paddock analysis and command of what constitutes a 'Nice Type'. May the Good Lord have mercy.
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The previous sections may well have left you with a number of feelings of whether any of this matters that much. If you like some set of the Racing Presenters on TV you might be thinking that this is all much too hard on a well-meaning set of people. Let us try thinking about the issue in a different way to highlight some of the issues. To gap between the knowledge, expertise and forward thinking of the type of people we should expect to be the Authority figures and mouthpieces for British horseracing and what we have.
Consider this scenario. B2yoR has decided to set up a research programme to investigate the analysis of horseracing. This is going to be a large, well funded, undertaking and will take as long as required. The first phase is a 5 year programme of work split into several streams. Part of the work will be to lay down a set of fundamental principles against which to judge the usefulness of any method of analysing races and performance. Another will be to to a full review of the current methods being widely used. For each of these the currently available data will be analysed, if it exists in any form. Where the current data is insufficient, unavailable because of being kept private by some group or there being none (despite a widespread belief in the method's usefulness) a project will be run to produce an appropriate data set for review.
Another major stream of this work will be more speculative than the others which are focussed on trying to put a firm foundation to what we think we might already know. Here the aim will be on identifying and then starting to research on novel ideas which are not already used. Finding the people who have these sort of proposals is going to be difficult. It is unlikely that the day-to-day craftspeople (i.e. artisans working with known technologies) will be useful here. They make up nearly all of the people employed within racing analysis are not going to provide this sort of input, partly because they are trained out of that way of thinking.
The thought of being put into a coma by the combination of Thommo and Ennis on an 'Attheraces' TV programme and waking up 10 years later to find nothing has changed in Racing presentation should make you feel physically unwell, beyond the Coma effect, if you are some sort of candidate here. Say, you went by Time Machine 30 years hence and watched the Racing from the Cisco Ascotodrome on a hovering Sphere. To have the right mindset you should be reduced to tears of frustration if the Paddock feed started with the latter-day Captain Cliche intoning "..and here is Lack Of Progress, a bonny & racy colt, seemed to go ok first time, should come on for the run, the stable is on fire and Spencer junior's booking catches the eye....".
Now, this is not going to be a jolly undertaking where if we produce anything at all it will be nice. It will be a tough regime where the Programme is split into Projects and these will have detailed plans and delivery Milestones they have to hit. The Programme Manager is a superficially relaxed type but is more 'Wrong end of a Jet Engine' than 'Hairdryer' when provoked. The effectiveness of this threat is increased by it being only rarely revealed. His team include two individuals whose job is to ensure the Project Managers have full control over their areas of responsibility. The first level is 6' 4'' broad in all three spatial dimensions and comes to your desk and blocks out the daylight when your regular Project Report is unsatisfactory. Perhaps just the odd hint of slipping on some bit of work but Cubeman's real job is as a metaphor, a looming warning of the danger you are in if this is not resolved. He is not that bright and unable to comprehend excuses. If things escalate the next level of threat will be visited upon you and it is only 5' 6''. But Dr M. is the chilling 'Big Brain' type and lacking emotions. Clearly psychopathic and would probably enjoy nothing more than running some experiment on you. You will feel yourself turning see-through on the way losing your grasp of who-you-are-and-what-you-know if you try to explain to him anything other than how you are going to deliver on the original plan.
But, let us not dwell on the pressures. You have got a job as a Project Manager and you have a well-paid role where you can think and talk about racing all day. You also have the power to do something progressive and useful in racing analysis terms rather than bobbing around in the same fetid barrel for the rest of time. The Plan is done and you have the profiles of the type of people you need on your team. The Programme Office have also told you to keep a look out for any rare individuals who might contribute to the speculative Project. Now, what was that the Programme Manager said? Oh, yes, "Recruitment, Recruitment, Recruitment. Get the right people on the Team and the Project will run itself. Get anything less than the right people and you are in trouble before you start. You will be 'firefighting' from one hour to the next."
With which you turn to having a first look through the C.Vs. and applications you have received. These are well paid posts and you have had a high level of response. Have a look through the ones from the well known Pundits and have a ponder over whether then are going to add any value.
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Left on the table after the first meeting to try to Shortlist the applicants for Interview was the list below. As part of the discussion the Programme Office had put together short summaries of the applicants known from their Pundit work. The summaries were supposed to be opinionated and characatures to try to facilitate the debate. Encourage the supporters of a candidate to have to respond and work to make their case for a person's inclusion. The Y/N/M(aybe, further thought, see how short the list is after looking at the other Candidate sources) in the square brackets afterwards are the Minute Takers' notes on whether to go further with the individual's application. None were thought suitable for the speculative, forward thinking, stream of the Programme.
Zoe Bird - Short menued, teenaged 'Am Dram' show-off. Personable but temperamentally unsuited for the long grind of lifetime analysis. [N].
Sean Boyce - Yellow & Red card system for use of the Phrase "It's all about the Betting, Stupid.". Bookies' Stooge as would befit an old Ladbrokes' man. [M].
Frank Carter - Blinkered resident of the Racing Post pundit hutches. Rarely let out to see some daylight and instead, unthinkingly, spends his time mining some thin seams of punditry rubble. Often to be found kneeling in front of an altar to The Market and expects it to provide more than half of his analysis. Remove what Simon told him to be true from the rest of his output and you are left with a man getting paid for chucking a few rough pebbles into the mix. [NN].
Mike Cattermole - An odd mix of man-in-his-50s and Oh-My-Gard West Coast teenage ditz. Unable to link from Point A to sensible Conclusion C through simple Fact B. Instead to be found standing admiring the flowers while simpering "Aren't they just, like, fantastic.., awesome". Is there a teenage girl in the US working her way through the colours for the 9:20 from Wolverhampton while doing Sean Connery impressions? [NN].
Matt Chapman - [Noisy. Orange. Adolescent. Invariably. ] Perm any 3 from 4. [N].
Bob Cooper - Disorganised, bumbling, old-before-his-time routine a subtle ruse masking someone who is actually clapped out, Bumbling and Disorganised-before-his-time. [N].
Graeme Cunningham - Plausible pie-boy Journalist. Determinedly Northern. [M].
Alistair Down - 27 years Down! No-one's forgotten here and things are cold enough now. Oh, yes. Aussie Jim McGrath's brother and swears by the same solids and drink input, upon inspection. Tiring throwback and as obsessed with stopping change as his mucker, the other McGrath. Believes that Flat Racing is a flawed concept and staffed by wide-boys and chancers. The NH crew being God's chosen choir. Nauseatingly smug. Noteworthy for a flowery writing style that suggests notebooks full of cringemaking doggerel, of varying vintages, to be found at his abode. Regularly claims to be able to kill any horse simply by being given care of it and standing it in a field. Never specifies how he manages to extinguish relatively rugged lifeforms quite so expeditiously. It's catching, this flowery style thing. [NN].
Tony Ennis - Chilling, nasal, robot figure. Notable for drawing the oxygen & energy out of any situation. Master of the Say-What-You-See School of Video Non-Analysis. The Cat-is-sat-on, what was it again, Tony? [N].
Mick Fitzgerald - Boy who has already disappointed. The Great White Hope for a Media future when riding but hopes not fulfilled. Second gear, indistinct delivery style for dishing out the Pundit Lite. Worry over how he will spice the act up when he can no longer say "..even I managed to win on that one.." and "...Nicky tells me..". [N].
Eddie Fremantle - The Boot. Chose the Southeast Region Timetable as his specialist subject when engaged in racing's 'Celebrity Mastermind'. Only owns one other book which has 'Form' on the front and worships the contents unquestioningly. Unnaturally obsessed with how tall other people are as he struggles to put a framework to his world now his fat sidekick is unable to lie up. [M].
John Francome - Butterfly brained & permed. Ability diluted by inability to concentrate and work at it for lengthy periods. More interested in other things and talking to his mates to settle to the analysis these days. [N].
Luke Harvey - Wide boy chancer. Winging It through life by concentrating on himself and the main chance. Empty of content otherwise. [NN].
Lydia Hislop - The girl most likely to disappoint given the strong start but now hinting at some fritterage occurring. Increasingly pugnacious but has promised to stop frightening the customers. Unusually obsessed with sweating and head carriage to no strong purpose. Yellow & Red card system for use of the word 'Lickle'. As in how many Ts are there in the word Lickle. Straight Red for 'Ickle' or 'Wickle'. Season long ban for combining them. [N].
Richard Hoiles - The boy most likely to disappoint given the lucid moments. Bean-counter who finds being outside trying and too easily bullied by anyone who has ever seen a horse. [N].
Simon Holt - The man they couldn't hang, err Name, ... err Remember. Sorry, Simon Who? What was it Simon used to say? Ah, yes....Never trust anyone called Simon, tend to be DJs, crimpers and so on. Riff-raff of one sort or another. [N].
Nick Luck - Smooth, ultra-competent, TV Presenter. Develops into an ultra-Luvvie, rough around the edges, mix-and-match artist when the analysis starts. Aware of a whole raft of 'Small Northern Races' which are invisible to the rest of us. These are all due to be won by the 80% of horses on each day he has fingered as Eyecatchers. [M].
Simon Mapletoft - Oh no, another Simon. Captain Cliche. Racing's equivalent to a smooth, plausible, Business Consultant. Turns up, talks through some lightweight waffle and pockets the cash. Later thought tells you the content was empty and worthless. You might as well have spent the time chewing on intellectual cardboard. Actually that is unfair. Chewing cardboard is far more nutritious than that. [N].
John McCririck - The boy who has already disappointed most. Object lesson in how to fritter away any talent and advantages bestowed in the pursuit of ephemera. [NNN].
Jim McGrath - Pie-fed Bibulant on inspection. [N].
Jim McGrath - Trilby wearing throwback finding himself more regularly irate as time goes by and the Present has become a little less like the past. Well Respected by others of the same ilk. Regularly walks out when change comes calling. Determined to ensure there is a corner of a Halifax field that is forever Little England. [N].
Steve Mellish - Ultra-Dad figure given to hanging around with pugnacious younger females. Hard working anorak at heart although firmly rooted in old-fashioned methods. Hints in several ways of being able to break from those ties with the right prodding. [M].
Peter Naughton - Professional Northerner in thrall to the OR figures. [N].
Dave Nevison - Tired old Dad still turning out for his local parks Football team despite being Gone-at-the-Game and spending a lot of time talking about the 'Old Days' when he had some success. Unable to give up the Football because he really still wants the camaraderie of standing in the boozer afterwards. General inability to develop & move forward. [NN].
Tom O'Ryan - Popeye style smiling and oily approach a subtle ruse to mask an iron resolve to protect 'Da Family'. Who you looking at, eh? [N].
Richard Pitman - Tweedy, Cordy throwback. Hampered by constantly having to wrestle with the English language and the shadow cast by his enormous Flat 'At and a big horse called Grasp. Or perhaps something else. What was that horse called again? I'm losing it. All brown, you know. Except the white ones. [N].
Alex Quinn - Toothsome, winsome, Zoe Bird forerunner in more ways than would be immediately obvious. Personable newsreader and purveyor of classic 'Pundit Lite'. [N].
Tarnya Stevenson - Estuarine bookie. Lacks the 'Am Dram' gene as a positive but too attached to The Market to be saveable, [N].
Hugh Taylor - Deadpan, media non-savant. Given a fire breaking out would ensure he saved his Disc Drive with recordings of the last 6 month's races on first. Happy to treat the world as a 'Black Box' and not poke about too much at the innards. [Y].
The Monochrome Set - That bunch of indistinguishable men-in-their-40s that litter racing. Media Presenters who cannot leave it at that and have to play at Pundits. All spend too much time travelling around the country talking at microphones to do any thinking about racing, if they were ever minded to. As difficult to satirise as Cotton Wool balls and as hard to differentiate. All owe their careers to Simon Wotshisname 1980s accidental success. One Ball wears a kilt and is perhaps called Alex, another is programmed to say "Shot to Bits" & "Shadow of the Post" at intervals and might be a Stewart. Another is being pumped up into a bigger, immobile, ball with time and answers to John mind-how-you-go Hunt. [NNN].
Derek Thompson - Progenitor of the Hopping-about-like-a-man-trying-to-get-warm School of Racecourse Commentating whilst ejecting random noises at various pitches. Brings his commentaries towards the expected 'Crescendo' in an irregular, rising & falling, staccato manner with no natural progression. Then fails to identify half the prominent finishers having worked himself into a childlike lather. (Lee McKenzie the only other notable adherent to this School). Often faintly praised for being 'Professional' as if the best thing you could say about an actor was he turned up to rehearsals and made his cues. Analytical ability of a 5yo because of the attention span difficulties, the hopping from one foot to the other, the unrestrained joy for puerile jokes and his unnatural awareness of himself as a 'figure' in the third person. [NN, Huh, Huh, Huh, Big Fella].
Jason Weaver - Uber example of how having ridden a lot does not mean you have anything new to offer as a Pundit. Expanding, pie-fed, matey chancer side developing now retired. Passable as a Presenter/Entertainer but pear-shaped Pundit. [N].
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