Saturday, February 13, 2016

Crunching Numbers: Developing Race and Power Ratings (Part I)



This is Part 1 of a multi-part series. I don't know how many parts... as many as I come up with.

Over the past year I’ve been working on a graded stakes database and a system for rating horses and the strength of individual races. It’s been a bear of a project because it involves a crapload of manual data entry, along with constant/weekly updates since the ratings change as more data is added to the population.  The database includes the top three finishers from every graded stakes race in North America since January of 2013, along with the field size, finish margins, an assortment of speed and pace figures, and other assorted ratings.

Piggybacking on my post from the other day, speed figures, pace figures, and ratings capture different elements of the performance of a horse in a specific race. A speed figure highlights the final time given the relative speed of the track; a pace figure describes the shape of the race, a rating incorporating weight views the performance of the horse in relation to the other horses in the race, and on and on and on. I like to look at all of those factors but wanted to try and come up with a way to represent performances across the entire spectrum of stakes race. Additionally, I wanted a rating that would change over time given the relative strength or weakness of subsequent races. Those goals led me to this database project.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Songbird v. Mor Spirit: Tale of the Figure Tape

Nothing seems to cause the hair on the back of the necks of horseplayers to rise up in anger more than a horse receiving a speed figure higher or lower than what they "think" that horse actually earned.

Want to start an on-line fight (or, god forbid, a Twitter War)? Simply develop a speed figure or some kind of horse rating system and then rate a horse that somebody else likes lower than a horse that said person doesn't doesn't think much of at all. Like moths to the flame, the invariable "that figure is too [high, low, insane, etc.]! will pour forth from the masses.

Why this arguing occurs, other than the fact that horse players just love to argue, I'll never know. Any handicapper that knows anything about constructing speed figures, or any kind of rating system, should understand that these figures are as much about art as they are science. [And if you don't, simply spend a few months calculating your own figures. At some point in the process you'll have to make a judgement call (most likely due to your variant) and the "art" part of the endeavor will be on full display.] Which leads me to the topic of this post, the Tale of the Figure Tape between Songbird and Mor Spirit following their respective victories at Santa Anita on Saturday, February 6th.