BLOODSTOCK INDUSTRY APPLIES PRINCIPLES OF SABERMETRICS

The movie Moneyball tells the story of how computer-aided advances in the statistical analyses of potential Major League Baseball players enabled the thrifty Oakland Athletics to become more competitive against MLB’s most prosperous teams.

With the lack of a league-imposed salary cap, revenue-rich clubs like the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies outspend their small-market counterparts on player compensation by a margin of about five to one.

Oakland’s general manager Billy Beane began to draft players in 2002 by employing a then-pioneering method called sabermetrics. The performance criteria used for player selection were a significant departure from the familiar traditional measures like batting average and runs-batted-in.

Just as sabermetrics has now become popular among major league clubs, computer-enabled mathematical techniques for evaluating equine athleticism, anatomy, and pedigree have become more prevalent in bloodstock selection. Thus horse buyers on a budget are able to enhance their chances of snaring diamonds in the rough.

Racehorse owners who consistently spend the most money on the crème de la crème of young prospects will, like MLB’s Yankees and Red Sox, typically have more successes to show for their outlays. But the large majority of seven-figure yearling purchases don’t come close to justifying such hefty expenditures, whereas a number of low-to-modestly priced horses of all ages turn out to be real bargains.

Pinnacle Racing Stable’s Musical Revenge—winner of the 2011 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint—is a recent example. The partnership purchased her out of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales’ April Sales.

Cothran “Cot” Campbell of Dogwood Stables espoused and pursued a value strategy long before Billy Beane: “We do not agree with a program that invests high dollars in untried bloodstock. We feel that the success ratio between a $100,000 colt and a $500,000 colt may be tilted slightly in favor of the latter. But, that horse costs five times as much and the increase in expectation of success is relatively small.”

Horse-racing equivalents of sabermetrics have demonstrated the ability to abet such a value-oriented purchasing concept. While neither horse racing nor MLB has a limit on how much an owner can spend on athletes, an important distinction between the two is that the odds of a frugal buyer of talent coming up with a contender are better in horse racing. An exceptional team of 25 players is necessary to win a World Series but it takes only one horse to come home first in the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

Originally published in the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.

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