Archives for August 2019


Three stewards took over 20 minutes to decide whether to disqualify Maximum Security in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Artificial intelligence (AI) could have made a decision instantanteously and more scientifically. Following the lead of sports like professional baseball and world-class gymnastics, racetracks and state racing authorities should explore how to use AI to render faster and better DQ rulings. This article suggests a methodology.

Artificial intelligence conjures up an image of computers thinking like humans and even having emotions. This advanced form of artificial intelligence, in which a machine has cognitive abilities, is commonly referred to as General Artificial Intelligence and is likely at least decades away from coming to fruition, if ever.

Today’s version of artificial intelligence, or simply AI, denotes machine learning. Software learns from being fed vasts amounts of data and is eventually able to make distinctions with minimal or no human intervention. For example, software could be taught to recognize various shades of the color blue or to identify trading signals or patterns in the stock market that produce profits.

Artificial Intelligence is being used in many endeavors, including sports. To illustrate, Major League Baseball is testing AI’ s ability to call balls and strikes more correctly than human umpires. The Atlantic League (comprised of eight independent professional baseball teams) is experimenting with AI this summer as described in the Wall Street Journal:

“…last week marked the introduction of…an automated strike zone, shifting responsibility for calling balls and strikes from a person to an emotionless piece of technology free of the biases and inconsistencies of mere humans. And if the test goes well, the days of big-league players imploring umps to schedule an eye exam could soon come to an end.

[Long Island] Ducks manager Wally Backman predicted that MLB will adopt the system within five years.

‘It’s going to happen,’ he said. ‘There have been a few pitches that are questionable, but not as many as if it was a human. The machine is definitely going to be more right than they are.’

Every Atlantic League stadium…now features a TrackMan device perched high above the plate. It uses 3-D Doppler radar to register balls and strikes and relays its ‘decision’ through a secure Wi-Fi network to the umpire, equipped with an iPhone in his pocket connected to a wired earbud. That umpire, positioned behind the plate as normal, hears a man’s voice saying ‘ball’ or ‘strike’ and then signals the verdict.”

Similarly, another recent Journal article titled “The Robots Are Coming (to Gymnastics)” stated: “The international gymnastics federation has voted to expand the use of sophisticated new technology in major upcoming competitions, a move that could ultimately shift control over the sport’s judging from humans to robots.”

Here’s is a brief summary of how artificial intelligence conceivably could be developed for use by horse-racing stewards.

The first step would be to employ machine learning to perfect a “best practices” AI model that stewards would have at their disposal to make decisions about whether to uphold or reject claims of interference in races and would ensure more consistent rulings across racetracks. By inputting data (videos) from thousands of past races in which a claim of foul was lodged or in which stewards initiated an inquiry on their own, AI software might be able to learn to become a highly accurate surrogate steward free of any personal biases or emotional leanings. If this proves infeasible, an AI “best practices” model could be built upon knowledge solicited from the most experienced and competent stewards.

The next step would be to tailor a Doppler-radar system for tracking the paths horses take during races. Data derived from such a system would be plugged into the AI model to determine whether each and every race has been run fairly, or whether interference requires a disqualification. According to the National Weather Service: “By their design, Doppler radar systems can provide information regarding the movement of targets as well as their position.” Thus Doppler Radar has the potential to provide stewards with precise data pertaining to the paths horses took during a race.

For instance, in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, the availability of an AI model fed Doppler radar data from the race could have immediately told the Churchill Downs stewards whether the two claims of foul against Maximum Security were warranted. They would have had the benefit of scientific data about Maximum Security’s route vis-a-vis other horses and the collective wisdom of stewards embodied in an AI model indicating whether a DQ was appropriate.

Regardless of whether stewards are bound by International Federation of Horseracing Category 1 or Category 2 rules for disqualifying horses, artificial intelligence would assist them greatly in reaching sound, timely, and defensible calls, even though they could still have the option to disagree with the decision recommended by the AI software.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business


The 2019 Travers Stakes is on August 24th at Saratoga Race Course. The inaugural Travers in 1864 was won by the colt Kentucky, who was co-owned by two of the founders of the Saratoga Racing Association, William Riggin Travers and John Hunter. William Travers (1819-1887) made a fortune on Wall Street and was the first president of Saratoga Race Course. Since 1864, the race named after him has been run annually except for six years in the late 19th century and early 20th century. It is widely regarded to be the third most prestigious race for 3-year-olds in the United States, trailing only the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, and has been won by such greats as Native Dancer and Buckpasser.

This year’s renewal is particularly relevant because there is no clear-cut candidate for champion 3-year-old colt or gelding. The winners of the Kentucky Derby (Country House) and Belmont (Sir Winston) are out of action and the Preakness winner War of Will is being prepped for the Pennsylvania Derby instead of the Travers. Disqualified Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security is not entered. Omaha Beach has not raced since being scratched as the pre-race favorite in the Kentucky Derby. The absence of a dominant colt makes for a challenging and attractive race to watch and bet.

Following are the twelve entries and their morning lined odds:

Chess Chief 30/1
Code of Honor 4/1
Endorsed 15/1
Everfast 30/1
Highest Honors 10/1
Laughing Fox 30/1
Looking at Bikinis 10/1
Mucho Gusto 6/1
Owendale 6/1
Stars are Cool 30/1
Tacitus 5-2
Tax 6/1

Tacitus, who broke poorly in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga but rallied to finish second, is a real threat at 1 ¼ miles, as is Code of Honor, who last month won the Dwyer at Belmont Park. The race has live longshot contenders like Owendale and Laughing Fox.

The Travers traditionally has drawn the crème de la crème of American 3-year old Thoroughbreds. The race has not been kind, however, to many of them. Whirlaway is the only Triple Crown champion to win the race. In 1978, Triple Crown winner Affirmed crossed the finish line first, but was disqualified for interference and placed second behind his arch-rival Alydar. And in 2015, American Pharoah was upset by Keen Ice.


On August 14, 1938, trainer Mary Hirsch, daughter of Hall of Fame trainer Max Hirsch and sister to Hall of Fame trainer W. J. “Buddy” Hirsch became the first woman to saddle the winner of the Travers Stakes, sending out Thanksgiving for owner Anne Corning. Mary Hirsch was also the first woman in North America to be licensed as a horse trainer and the first woman to saddle a starter in the Kentucky Derby.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business


The proprietors of Saratoga Race Course in its earliest years wanted to honor William Cottrell of Mobile, Alabama by naming a race for 3-year-old fillies after him. The English-born Cottrell was a prominent owner and breeder of his day, and his Buchanan won the 1884 Kentucky Derby. The self-effacing Cottrell requested the race be named after his adopted home state of Alabama instead of him. In 1872, the inaugural Alabama was won by August Belmont’s Woodbine. Today, the Grade 1 Alabama is the third leg of the New York Triple Tiara, the first two legs being the Acorn Stakes and the Coaching Club American Oaks.

Saturday, August 17, 2019, is the 139th edition, as the race was not run on nine occasions in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The prestigious race is contested at a distance of 1 ¼ miles on dirt. The undercard includes the 1 1/16 miles Grade 2 Lake Placid on turf for 3-year-old fillies and the Smart N Fancy, a 5 ½ furlong turf race for fillies and mares 3 years old and up. A TVG Promo Code offers incentives to wager.

The leading contenders for the $600,000 Alabama are: Dunbar Road, winner of the Mother Goose Stakes on June 29th; Lady Apple, third in the Kentucky Oaks and first in the Iowa Oaks; and Point of Honor, second in the Coaching Club American Oaks and first in the Black Eyed Susan at Pimlico.

Dunbar Road, the lightly raced daughter of Quality Road, has a career record of three wins in fours starts and was impressive in the Mother Goose by closing to win by 2 ½ lengths.

Point of Honor is well suited for the 10 furlongs, being by Curlin out of a Bernardini mare. Her second-place finish in the Coaching Club American Oaks was to her stablemate Guarana, who will likely start next in the Grade 1 Cotillion at PARX on September 21st.

Once the Alabama is in the books, fans can quickly turn their attention Saturday to Del Mar in southern California, where the TVG Pacific Classic will be contested on dirt at 1 ¼ miles. Del Mar’s preeminent race is for 3 year olds and up.

In addition to the Pacific Classic, Del Mar has carded four graded stakes, making Saturday’s program worth over $2 million: the $300,000 Grade I Del Mar Oaks; the $250,000 Grade II Del Mar Handicap; the $100,000 Grade III Torrey Pines Stakes; and the $100,000 Grade III Green Flash Handicap.

Barring a scratch, ten horses will contest the $1 million Pacific Classic. The favorites are likely to be California-based Pavel and Kentucky-shippers Seeking the Soul and Quip.

Pavel has raced against some of the best racehorses in the world and in some of the world’s richest races, though he did not finish in the top three spots in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Champions Cup in Japan, or the Dubai World Cup. Seeking the Soul and Quip finished first and second in the closely contested June 15th Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. Seeking the Soul’s achievements include second-place finishes in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs and in the Pegasus World Cup in January 2019 at Gulfstream Park. The horse that beat him in both races, City of Light, is now retired.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business