RACING TRADITION AT THE REAL DOWNTON ABBEY

This week I received an email from Highclere Thoroughbred Racing suggesting that participating in one of its partnerships would be a “perfect Christmas present.”  Highclere Castle, the namesake of Highclere Thoroughbred Racing and Highclere Stud, is the site of the fictitious Downton Abbey, the immensely popular British historical drama series for television that also was made into a movie with a sequel upcoming. 

The chairman and managing director of Highclere Thoroughbred Racing is Harry Herbert, who is the younger brother of George Herbert the eighth Earl of Carnarvon and the current resident of Highclere Castle.  Their sister Carolyn Warren and her husband John Warren own Highclere Stud, which was established by the fifth Earl of Carnarvon in 1902.  John Warren is bloodstock advisor to Queen Elizabeth II and other prominent racehorse owners.

The venerable history of the Herbert family in horse racing makes Highclere Castle a special place for folks who are fans of the sport as well as the Downton Abbey TV series. (Click here to visit the Highclere Castle website and scroll down to experience its beauty at Christmas.)

Wishing you a blessed holiday season.

GREAT POTENTIAL FOR ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN TRAINING AND RACING

Techniques for coaching human athletes and training racehorses have changed over the years with the application of video feedback, nutritional improvements, conditioning discoveries, more accurate timing technologies, and advanced medical procedures.  Now, artificial intelligence or AI promises to make further advancements.

For example, Forbes describes how Pixellot, a six-year-old Israeli company that employs “technology to maximize talent,” for such college programs as Virginia basketball, Penn State and Indiana soccer, as well as for several premier international soccer clubs.  Forbes states that Pixellot “has been using artificial intelligence to quietly upend the way players and coaches watch games—and even practices.”  Pixellot is “a tool for player-improvement and coaching, a way to break down weaknesses and find ways to get better, no matter the player’s level or the sport.” 

The main focus of the Forbes article is Deni Avdija, a 6-7 Israel basketball player for Maccabi Tel Aviv, who was drafted ninth in the first round of the 2020 National Basketball Association by the Washington Wizards.  Maccabi and Avdija have been a testing ground for applying artificial intelligence to practice and game video to hone players’ techniques.

Likely, there would be some skepticism and resistance to using artificial intelligence to train racehorses and plan racing tactics. But experimentation will no doubt take place by some forward-thinking owners and trainers looking for a legal edge.  Artificial intelligence has the capacity to identify patterns that human brains often miss. 

I recall reading that prior to the 1982 Kentucky Derby, Gato Del Sol’s co-owner, Arthur Hancock III, was concerned with the colt’s number 18 post position.  Reportedly, Mr. Hancock contacted a high-school classmate who he had remembered as a math whiz to ask about the path his jockey should take out of the starting gate to give the colt the best chance to win.  Fed enough data, artificial intelligence can answer precisely this type of question.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business

HORSE RACING’S BUSINESS MODEL SAVED THE DAY IN 2020

Like all industries and sports, horse racing in the United States has been severely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the rescheduling of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness sans fans, cancellation of race cards, summer gatherings at Del Mar and Saratoga negated, and the Breeders’ Cup held in front of empty stands.  However, horse racing has actually fared very well vis-à-vis the vast majority of leisure and entertainment businesses because its product can be distributed via television and phone/internet.

On December 4, Equibase released key performance metrics comparing 2020 through November to the first eleven months of 2019.  Total wagering in the U. S. was down in 2020 by only 1.48% vs. 2019 even though there were 26.28% fewer race days in 2020 (3,073 vs. 4,173) and 24.5% fewer races run (25,692 vs. 34,038). 

As of November 30, 2020, bettors had wagered $10,173,203,529 contrasted to $10,326,096,192 in 2019.  Yet average wagering per race day amounted to $3,310,512, up by 33.78% from 2019.  Average purses paid per race day rose slightly from $263,984 in 2019 to $264,285 in 2020.

Since the advent of simulcasting and later internet and telephone wagering, racetrack attendance has dramatically declined, with large racetrack crowds largely confined to Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup days and to summer meets at Saratoga and Del Mar.  With the coming of the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic, having no on-track crowds was detrimental but could to a large extent be compensated for financially by off-track betting and telecasts.

From the standpoint of pari-mutuel handle, the 2020 data indicate that U. S. horse racing might be better off with less racing.  By contrast, less racing might be a negative for the bloodstock industry, but that is by no means a certainty because racing secretaries are already having trouble filling races…and races with more betting entries boost handle.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business

Click here to see the entire Equibase report of December 4, 2020.