KENTUCKY DERBY 3 MONTHS OUT

So far, there are 368 nominees for the 2016 Kentucky Derby, consisting of 335 colts or ridglings, 30 geldings, and 3 fillies. With the point system making it difficult for fillies to qualify, it is a wonder that any were nominated. Seventeen nominees were bred in countries besides the United States. More horses may be nominated as the late period lasts until March 21.

What is striking about the list is that it is dominated by two trainers and one owner. Bob Baffert is the trainer of record of 35 of the nominees and Todd Pletcher is the trainer of 28. Chad Brown is a distant third but still has an impressive eleven nominees. Thus Baffert and Pletcher together account for 17% of the nominees. Zayat Stable, owner of American Pharoah, has 15 nominees.

Currently, there are eight horses with odds of less than 20/1 in Las Vegas and Baffert and Brown each train one of them.  Here’s the list of eight along with their odds and their trainer.

Mohayman 4/1 (Kiaran McLaughlin)
Mor Spirit 8/1 (Bob Baffert)
Nyquist 10/1 (Doug O’Neill)
Exaggerator 12/1 (Keith Desormeaux)
Smokey Image 12/1 (Carla Gaines)
Airoforce 14/1 (Mark Casse)
Shagaf 15/1 (Chad Brown)
Greenpaint Crusader 18/1 (Dominick Schettino)

Steve Haskin’s “Derby Dozen” in the Blood-Horse includes five of the eight but does not contain Smokey Image and Shagaf. The Haskin list has Greenpoint Crusader on top with Brody’s Cause (Dale Romans, trainer) picked for second.

It will be interesting to revisit this post on the night of Saturday, May 7, 2016 to see how things changed from the doldrums of winter. The winner of the Kentucky Derby may not be in the Las Vegas top eight or on the Haskins list. I’ll return to this subject a couple of times between now and Derby week.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business

SPORTS ANALYTICS WERE PIONEERED IN HORSE RACING

The Cleveland Browns of the National Football League recently caused a media stir by hiring sports analytics guru Paul DePodesta as chief strategy officer. DePodesta first gained notice in the early 2000s when he helped Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s build a contending team on a relatively meager budget for player salaries; Jonah Hill’s character in the movie Moneyball was based on him. DePodesta subsequently used analytics to put together the New York Mets club that played in the 2015 World Series.

Analytics in sports generally refers to the application of inferential statistics to data in order to make sounder decisions about such critical matters as player acquisition and in-game tactics. It’s called sabermetrics in baseball and has been used for about 20 years. The Moneyball movie and media reports about it tend to leave the erroneous impression that sports analytics was pioneered in Major League Baseball.

On the contrary, analytics emerged long before in American horse racing. Andrew Beyer was one of the innovators some 45 years ago with his Beyer Speed Figures, and “Beyers” in 1992 became a staple of the past performances published in the Daily Racing Form.

In the early 1970s, the late Richard Broadbent founded Bloodstock Research Information Services to craft software for broodmare owners to employ in identifying the most promising stallion alternatives. The venture eventually branched out into the handicapping analytics business known as Brisnet.

Horse racing, like baseball, was a natural for analytics because of the meticulously documented and mammoth statistical history of the sport.

The increased affordability of personal computers for the masses in the 1980s and 1990s led to the development of sophisticated but inexpensive software programs for handicapping. Today, for instance, well-known proprietary software offerings by Equibase and the Daily Racing Form enable handicappers to experiment with personalized analytic models. Thoro-Graph, another analytics-based handicapping tool, has also been employed successfully by some racehorse owners and trainers to pinpoint horses to buy.

Biometric techniques for selecting unraced Thoroughbreds are yet another type of analytics. Techniques, for example, that measure cardio efficiency and assess motion flow fall into this genre.

While analytics are pervasive in a growing number of sports, they are widely misunderstood, perhaps because analytics may seem to the public like the product of a black box wherein unsystematic data are inputted and profound insights are said to materialize.

Properly used, analytics reveal statistically recurring relationships that can be capitalized on by decision makers. However, they are not meant to substitute for human judgment, whether it concerns what pitcher to trade for, what play to call on third and goal at the 2-yard line, or which horse to bet on, breed to, or buy.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business

BRITISH HORSE RACING’S NEWEST MOVERS AND SHAKERS

The winter issue of the United Kingdom edition of Town & Country magazine features a cover story titled “The New Royals, How the Qataris Became Britain’s Ruling Class.”

The essence of the article is captured in the opening paragraph: “Claridge’s, the Shard, Harrod’s…just a few of the crown jewels the Qataris have snapped up. But there’s something different about their takeover of the turf. So why have the Arabian billionaires made a move on Goodwood, Newmarket, and Ascot? And what does it all mean for British racing?”

Two rival groups from Qatar are investing in a huge way in British horse racing and are challenging the supremacy of Ireland’s Coolmore Stud and Dubai’s Godolphin operation. One group, Qipco, is led by the ruling Al Thani family and the other group, Al Shaqab, is owned by the Qatar state. Al Shaqab races over 150 Thoroughbreds and about 40 Arabians in England and France.

What was previously known as Goodwood race course, and referred to as Glorious Goodwood, has been renamed Qatar Goodwood in a 10-year sponsorship deal that markedly augments purses. For instance, the purse for the Sussex Stakes has risen from £300,000 to £1 million. Qipco, a Qatar investment company, is also Royal Ascot’s main commercial partner and sponsors the Qipco 2,000 Guineas Day at Newmarket and the British Champions Series.

Harry Herbert, chairman of Highclere racing syndicates and former racing manager for Queen Elizabeth II, advises Al Shaqab and noted racing expert David Redvers counsels Qipco. Herbert’s ancestral home is Highclere Castle, the location for Downton Abbey of public television fame.

The Town & Country article illustrates how involvement at the highest level of British horse racing is now and has always been a social endeavor as well as a sporting venture. Horse ownership provides an entrée into British high society and even the opportunity to chat occasionally with the Queen. Horse racing, coupled with investments in well-known British properties like the Shard and Harrod’s, buys plenty of prestige.

Titled families in the United Kingdom traditionally dominated horse racing. Then the likes of Robert Sangster, John Magnier, Sheik Muhammad, and others became the most prominent players. The deep-pocketed groups from Qatar have joined the leaders.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business