A massive thanks for all your questions, both in the comments section and on Twitter. I include the best of them here but there were several others that should have made it but I couldn't put in for Gone With The Wind-style concerns.
In particular, Colin was really unlucky not to be included. His points were either raised by others or answered by them.
* * *
Q: The problem with Wilkins book is that like many academics he becomes engrossed in the method rather than the end results. There is a comprehensive set of articles at SmarterSig.com for those interested in further exploration of pace and profitable ways of employing it.
A: This was just one of a number of useful observations you made, Admin. I hope you don't mind me not including the rest. I have taken all your points on board.
Yes, as I said in my own review, I believe Wilkins' book Bioenergetics and Racehorse Ratings is stronger on the former than the latter. He implies as much himself.
I am glad you mentioned the excellent work that SmarterSig.com and its forerunner have done. I have no link with them whatsoever and am not here to do endorsements, but I completely agree that research both on their website and in their excellent book Improve Your Betting is well worth accessing for punters wanting to make practical improvements.
(I might also mention the website Flatstats.co.uk as another portal from which technically minded punters who don't have my obsession with the abstract can find much to nourish them.)
For what it is worth, Admin, I am very much from the Wilkins' school. I am motivated to spend my life on ground-level theoretical research of pace and racing analysis because I have no confidence in the superficial methods generally employed. Moreover, I distrust received wisdom.
To be honest, I could not compete intellectually with the expertise of the SmarterSig.com guys in their particular field. Top-class stuff.
Q: How do they measure times from a rolling start in the US?
A: Gavin, the timing apparatus is triggered 30-35 feet in front of the stalls on most tracks, so the actual distance of races is slightly more than that advertised.
There are important differences from track to track and, crucially, even from one start to another on the same track.
Over 6f at Churchill Downs, for instance, first-quarter splits are very fast presumably because there is a more generous run-up distance than elsewhere. It is not important to know the exact distance of the run-up because it is inferred as part of the data when calculating standard sectionals.
Q: I agree Bioenergetics and Racehorse Ratings is a fascinating book. I reviewed it on theracingforum.co.uk at the time of publication and, from memory, my concern was that the application of the methods allowed/relied on too much emphasis on subjective judgements. But I also recall Bob explaining in the book that the practical application wasn't his primary motivation nor interest. Perhaps the door is open, James, for a Wilkins/Willoughby collaboration.
A: I think we are all singing from the same hymn sheet, David. I fear a Wilkins/Willoughby collaboration would draw rather too much on the former than the latter, but it goes without saying I would do it at the drop of a hat. You must remember that I am not fit to lace Bob's boots academically.
R Hills is God said...
Q: Ah, Bob Wilkins. A name oft mentioned in hushed and clipped tones in betting shops up and down the land [Britain]. Every time a gamble is landed, someone starts a rant about insiders before a more mature punter pulls them to one side and tells them: "You do realise the stable probably didn't have a penny on it. People just assume that they have backed it when the majority of market moves are caused by Wilkins' money."
I've met every shadowy figure in the betting world that has controlled the ring with a rod of iron, or have met someone who has met them, save for one: Bob Wilkins. Everyone claims never to have met him. He's the Naylor's Naylor.
It would be an incredible feather in your cap James if you could get the great man out of hiding and have him hold forth over a few cold ones.
A: Glenn, this is another special contribution. You are so right. And my particular cap has plenty of room for feathers. The "Naylor" to whom you refer is, I believe, the shadowy Pat, the only man truly deserving of the word "genius" as applied to betting.
I believe that Wilkins has, in effect, let the cat out of the bag. It is now our job to make sure the bag ends up in our office.
Q: You mentioned "regression to the mean" in relation to bounce theory. I'd like to hear more on your thoughts on that.
A: David, if you continue to read this blog, you have no choice! Regression is the most useful and oft-used technique in modern-day statistical analysis of sport. It is at the core of econometrics, the mathematical disciplines which have changed the way we understand the world, not to mention sport.
I will be presenting my theoretical approach to bounce theory (not that second-run-of-a-layoff nonsense) in a blog coming up soon. And to illustrate a working example, I will be drawing on data from my second love, Major League Baseball.
Mark Milligan said...
Q: The books that James mentioned are both superb but I also strongly recommend Figure Handicapping by James Quinn and Modern Pace Handicapping by Tom Brohamer. Both works are exceptional in my opinion.
A: Mark, I agree that they are both useful and informative. But I am not so keen on readers simply adopting their pseudo-scientific approach to pace and analysis. Using Wilkins and Carroll gives you formal understanding of the core principles, on top of which you can layer your own approach tailored to your own particular intelligence.
Q: As you have used the Classic as an example, can you compare Blame's sectional timings against Zenyatta's? Was she just a fast finisher, or were the others tiring?
A: Hopefully you can trust me to give an answer without proof on this one, Mick.
The way the Classic was interpreted on the television left me a little frustrated. Admirable and talented though she is, Zenyatta is no wonder horse. She was very good indeed on the track - but not great in terms of absoloute merit.
Her record and her accomplishments do perhaps deserve the term; either way she should be accorded utmost respect. But I get a shade frustrated when analysts cannot separate a horse with a brilliant record from a brilliant horse.
Zenyatta lagged behind in the Classic entirely because of her own attitude. Mike Smith always rode her that way because it was the best way to maximise her energy while staying within the bounds of her psychological needs.
When a horse is so narrowly beaten, it is impossible to say the jockey could not have done anything to win the race, but such a unilateral approach to analysis is always deeply flawed.
Zenyatta's amazing record said much about her durability and, indeed, her talent. But her style of running and the risible competition among Californian females led to the appraisal of her merit becoming somewhat overblown.
Q: Good stuff, you did not explain why Secretariat managed his uneven performance in the Belmont over 1m 4f though.
A: Robert, I am sorry that was an oversight I will put right. The clue to it is something I am calling "Equine Flow Psychology" which I believe explains the presence of some outlying sectional data.
If you wish to get a jump on this for yourself before I blog it, research its human equivalent and apply your intellect to the particular dynamic of equine athletics.
Once again, apologies for the omission. Sadly, it is going to happen again because I am excitedly juggling too many plates in the early going here at TFNL.
Q: There is room for discrepancy in analysing sectional times even within the same race meeting, as the Breeders Cup meeting at Churchill Downs illustrates.
Morning Line's sectionals in the Dirt Mile were exceptionally fast up front and set the race up for the closer Dakota Phone, yet he was nailed only on the line, whereas the four horses up front in the Classic stopped as if shot having gone through 6f around 1:11 / 1:12 which was not especially fast with reference to the Dirt Mile sectionals.
And the reason for this? The dirt track was watered after the Dirt Mile and before the Classic on foot of representations from horsemen about its condition and the effects of that are readily apparent from the sectional times for both races.
A: A very interesting submission, JJ. Your point about the watering is a valid observation but I don't agree with your inference of its overwhelming effect.
I believe the mistake you may be making is assuming that the sectionals of a race over one trip can be compared with those of another.
According to both my database of Churchill Downs and the useful publication HorseStreet Pars, a Graded Stakes-quality horse capable of running the Mile in 1:35 would achieve a split time of 1:38 for the first mile of the Classic. And the parallel split times (what I call standard sectionals) for both races show a similar disparity.
You only have to look at the way an opening half of :47 absolutely bottoms horses in the Derby, yet can be happily sustained by cheap claiming horses over the one-mile trip at Churchill.
In real terms, therefore, the horses up front in the Classic were running a lot harder than you imply. And that is probably the main reason they tired, in addition to the concept of "pace pressure" caused by a multi-horse scenario up front.
Q: It looks to me that the bends are having an effect on the times. In the Dirt Mile and Classic the sectional times on the back straight 6-4 furlongs were faster then the previous splits which was achieved on the first bend.
A: With regard to the last question...Bingo! See what this blog might achieve if I can continue to attract so many great contributions? The bend may not be the only reason for the disparity between the Mile and Classic splits - I accept that watering may have had some effect - but this is a good bit of purposeful thinking, Gavin.
Denis Beary said...
Q: Have you attempted the task of producing standard sectionals for different class levels for any tracks in the UK or Ireland? If not is this because you think doing this accurately from video recordings is not possible? If yes have you found the figures to be the Holy Grail of punting?
A: Denis, you have shrewdly answered your own point. We don't have the accurate data necessary. While we can use paths, markings on the rails and, indeed, the furlong-poles themselves to derive workable sectionals and learn an awful lot, doing so as a holistic exercise for British racing is, sadly, impossible.
Charlie Dickinson said...
Q: "The Match Up supercedes everything."
A: Not in my view, Charlie. If you are referring to the interplay between the running style of horses and the race within a race, it is extremely important.
I like a lot of your stuff and I do realise your phrase is designed to be provocative through its succinctness, but I don't like such rule-based analysis.
I believe we should be esoteric in our approach. In pace and in life.