Free Past Performances For All!: Why Horse Racing Should Democratize Data
Statistics and information regarding past performance in horse racing isn’t as readily accessible as it should be.
Updated: July 21, 2019 • 10:30 AM ET
When wagering on horse races, having as much accessible information as possible is pertinent.
There’s so much talk about the democratization of our lives nowadays, I’m rather overwhelmed. It’s infected discussions about politics, economics and society, all in the spirit and service of correctness. Personal affronts are seen as attacks on one’s own character and thus, the foundation of our democratic ideals will quake if we don’t defend the faith.
Look no further than the usurpation of something seemingly mundane as American architecture. The advent of the so-called McMansion is truly a miscarriage of cultural justice (if you don’t believe me, check out this pithy website).
For instance, within the confines of the home, the kitchen is no longer a separate room unseen; rather, its occupants must be part of the fun. Heaven forbid some seminal moment is missed! Now, the space looks out on the living room, hence a more democratic and inclusive perch. The death of the cult of domesticity has sounded, and that’s not a bad thing.
Rather, I’m talking about design in this instance. Kitchens used to have charm and small nooks for breakfasting. Now, it’s just the Gryffindor common room in every home.
It’s all a little nauseating to me. As a modernist, I don’t care for such decisions; the Bauhaus and Mies knew what to do. Leave it to the professionals, not some hacks that made a mint in the stock market and want to fancy themselves the next I.M. Pei (known in some circles as “I Get Paid,” since he seemed more focused on commissions than the art).
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All my negativity about democracy being overdone doesn’t necessarily percolate across topics. There are spaces that could use more transparency and openness — the sport of horse racing being one of them.
To be sure, pari-mutuel wagering ironically gets everyone into the pool, but there are so many facets of the sport that exclude loads of people. I’m not talking about railbirds who cannot afford to get into the suites at local tracks. No, look no further than the challenges in finding what are called the “past performances” of any given horse that is running at any given track in North America.
Trust me, it’s difficult.
Horse racing, unlike other sports that you can wager on, is probably the least accessible when it comes to information. If you’re interested in MLB or NFL stats, they’re readily available almost anywhere; and for that matter, they’re free. Outside the States, horse racing data, in say Europe or Japan, is always a click away.
Why is that?
You would think that an old stat-based sport like horse racing, which is similar to baseball when it comes to possessing all sorts of statistical categories, would be an open book.
As the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation (TIF) relayed in an excellent March report, information like horse stats needed some herding in the 1990s because control was so spotty. In other words, Equibase, the titan that controls the data, has become a monolith — too big to fail, perhaps?
What is for sure is that in 25 years, handicapping horse racing has become big business. Since companies control the flow of information, it makes it challenging for the person new to horse racing to understand how to navigate it.
With a little help though, there are some ways around it that are free and totally legitimate. What you want to try to access are “sheets,” as they are called, that are produced by several entities like the Daily Racing Form or Equibase. Mind you, subscriptions to these forms are expensive and can cost hundreds of dollars a year.
Also, at local tracks across the land, patrons must pay for simulcast forms by buying them from a concierge or, in some cases, a machine that spits out individual races for the whopping sum of 25 cents per race (a large sum, if you think about it for a piece of paper).
I sheepishly prefer cards produced by a company known as a Brisnet, which is controlled by Churchill Downs. They own several different assets in the business and have loads of influence in the industry through their wagering mechanism, Twin Spires (I will discuss them in an op-ed next week).
If you’re interested in a particular race, what you need to do is go to Equibase.com and click on the tab at the top of the page that reads, Entries (specifically Thoroughbred Entries N. America). This will take you to a page that lists a series of tracks with racing dates. Simply click on a date, then a race and a list of runners will appear. If you scroll down the page, you’ll notice each horse has a trainer’s name next to it. This is the key to finding a past performance card.
Once you know the trainer, you can shift to another website I refer to as “horse pps free” called Horse-Races.net. They run a portal site that, if you scroll down, has a lengthy list of trainers. By clicking on the correct one, you can find the matching race and automatically access the Brisnet sheet of your choosing. There, you’ll find all kinds of statistics for free. Voila!
Now, if a race you’re interested in accessing doesn’t have a trainer listed at Horse-Races.net, you have one more option. Back on Equibase, at the bottom of your race, you’ll notice a “parents list.” For each runner, the sire and dam are listed (Pop and Ma). If you can find a sire listed on Horse-Race.net, you can find your Brisnet form and begin to handicap your race.
Recently, there have been strong calls by the folks that produce these cards to end our free access. I am astounded and dismayed by this prospect. It seems unscrupulous and nothing short of greed.
In this instance, freedom of information should be precisely that, free. I agree wholeheartedly with TIF with regard to democratizing horse racing information. If free fantasy leagues on Yahoo have a bevy of options when it comes to data for their patrons who don’t pay a dime for access, why should bettors who seek to put their hard-earned cash on the line not be able to as well?
Clearly, access should be open; but will the powerful gatekeepers who possess it relinquish their grip? For that matter, how can this sport grow and attract new fans that are tech savvy when the cost of information continues to be so prohibitive?
Of course, I understand that they don’t exist as non-profits — business is business.
However, this isn’t the 1990s. These companies would do well to remember that block-chains and revenue sharing in other economic forms can create even more power and spread wealth.
Currently, Equibase and others remain disappointingly silent on this issue.
Dose of democracy, indeed.