And the Database Says…

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Derek Simon

March 12th, 2015

As regular readers now, I often use this space to discuss my latest ideas and studies in astrophysics… well, OK, horseracing — same thing, only vastly different. Anyway, this week, I wanted to something unique. So, on Facebook this past Wednesday, I confessed that I had nearly run out of ideas and I asked — nay, pleaded with — the 2,500+ people posing as my friends to give me some angles to test on my largest database (consisting of over 14,300 races).

Luckily, a few likeminded nerds took to the idea and, thus, I am writing this with that feces-eating grin that Maury Povich assumes right before he tells some poor sap that he did, in fact, sleep with his wife’s neighbor’s cousin… as well as his wife’s cousin… and, possibly, her sister (that always brings a stern chorus of boos from an outraged studio audience).

The first angle I looked at came from Kyle, who wanted to know what the digits were on “horses that were within three lengths of the lead at every call of their previous race, finished no worse than fourth, and improved their speed figure.”

Sadly, Kyle, they were nothing special.

Of the 13,486 such horses, just 2,466 won (18.3 percent) for an impact value of 1.39 and an odds-based impact value of 0.82.

Impact Value (IV): The percentage of winners with a given characteristic divided by the percentage of starters with that characteristic. An IV of 1.00 is considered neutral; an IV greater than 1.00 is positive; and an IV less than 1.00 is deemed to be negative.

Odds-Based Impact Value (OBIV): Same as the above only the final odds, rather than the number of entrants, determine each horse’s probability of visiting the winner’s circle. Because takeout and breakage are part of the final odds, a neutral OBIV (similar to an IV of 1.00) ranges from 0.80 to 0.85 (see chart below).

On the plus side, when I asked that Kyle’s qualifiers possess the (sole) best last-race speed figure in the field — and, then, insisted that the figure be very recent — the numbers improved dramatically:

Click HERE to view original image.

The next question I received was from Anthony, who was “curious if there are any profitable angles when a horse comes off a 90+ day layoff with speed figures that, from past races, are in the top three in the field.”

Well, because my Pace Profile Reports rate horses for speed over their past three starts, I had an idea as to what my query for Anthony would show — and I was right. Unfortunately, speed is one of those factors with a value that decays over time. Horses with my top PPR speed ranking performed worst off of 90+ day layoffs (I realize this wasn't precisely what Anthony asked, but I think it makes the point):

Click HERE to view original image.

However, then Anthony said something that I thought was clearly misguided when he opined: “The shorter the race the less the effect of jockey on the race. Favorites do the best in Quarter Horse races.”

In terms of his opinion on jockeys, the jury is still out. I looked at jocks with various win rates over a variety of different distances and didn’t find anything conclusive.

Click HERE to view original image.

But his belief that favorites did best in Quarter Horse races… well, I have to admit, there may be some merit in that, as the following chart shows (all the races less than four furlongs were primarily for the Quarters):

Click HERE to view original image.

Although the sample is relatively small, there does seem to be a general IV decline as the race distances increase.

Score one for Anthony.

My last question came from Adam, who wanted to know if the oft-discussed notion that the rail can be a detriment to frontrunners is valid.

“Derek I can't run a query for an ‘E’ or ‘E/P’ [Sartin running style designations found in the Brisnet past performances] favorite … in a dirt sprint last race, who lost from the [number one post], who is racing at the same level or dropping, and has an outside post … this race. Always wondered if anything there.”

I’m afraid, Adam, that the simple answer is “no,” there is nothing there — as the stats below attest to:

Click HERE to view original image.

In fact, these horses do worse than beaten favorites as a whole, albeit based on a very small sample.

Surprisingly, though, asking the opposite question yields interesting results: “E” or “E/P” horses that finished in-the-money from post four and up last time performed admirably when drawn wide again today:

Click HERE to view original image.

Now, if any of these results surprised you, imagine how Heather felt.