Friday, February 8, 2013

A Dash Of Nate Silver & A Cop

In HRU this morning, Gural's top cop was interviewed (pdf). In it he articulated what's so difficult about catching bad people in racing: You don't catch them with a needle because those are used sparingly, you don't catch them from tips, because people don't talk. In the end, you don't catch them.

We've all seen the form reversals, the "wow" performances off the claim, over and over again. Most times, if the trainer is cheating, he or she does not get caught. Many times the trainer just gets more horses from willing owners, then after building a business, they stop doing what they were doing. There are some trainers today who went from 10% to 30% overnight years ago, then back to 15% or 20% with good stock, who are still training. Racing tends to reward cheating and it's incredibly frustrating.

It's also a very fine line to walk, because there are great trainers out there who can improve horses from time to time. Sometimes they get tarred without doing anything wrong.

I remember reading an article in the 1980's where Woody Stephens spoke about improving a horse off a barn change. He talked about getting a horse healthy, giving him or her time to heal some wounds. It could take "three or four months", he said. Today there is no question that four months can be four weeks - with detailed scopes, scans, blood work, medication etc. It can and does happen. Even a small stable like ours has had some success the odd time. You can get lucky, find something wrong, fix it, and you have a nice horse.

But what sticks in the craw is the math, and that's where I think Nate Silver comes in. A trainer cannot, over and over again, improve almost each horse in his stable in a week or two, without some help, some edge. It's statistically impossible. You could probably look at back data from 1990-2006, and with 99% accuracy, point to those who were using EPO, or before that, milkshaking. Those are the types of people who rightfully have a big target on them. "Gold is where you find it", and where you find it is through statistics.

We saw this a little bit yesterday via a tweet from Bacon. And then a write-up.
She has been on fire and it's been noticeable to any horseplayer.

Does this prove she's breaking the rules? No. It just proves that if Brice Cote, Mr. Gural's investigator, wants something to investigate, he's found it.

Not everyone who wins races are bad. Under every turned over rock there will not be gold. But an investigator that uses a little bit of Nate Silver, and some common sense should be able to help the sport clean up. I don't think people inside the sport should have any problem with it.



3 comments:

Fishface said...

I love that the typical defence when horses race bad is that "they are not machines".

Very True and that validates what you are saying. It is illogical that a trainer can improve every thing they touch instantly, particularly when you have a large stable and make lots of claims. Equally illogical that a large stable of horses can all be racing "like machines" all at the same time.

The eyes don't deceive us!

Anonymous said...

Paulick is on the money. If you are following the Jane Cibelli story, you know that the race track, the stewards and the state are all preparing to throw Dr. Orlando under the bus and exhonerate Cibelli. Politics and corruption at its worst. Does anybody believe that Orlando treated Cibelli's horse without her knowledge? And then there's the principle of "trainer responsibility", which will be thrown out the window if this cover-up is successful. A new low for racing.

Anonymous said...

She initialed every one of Dr. O's ridiculously exhorbitant vet bills on our horse.She knows everything that goes on in her barn and runs it with an iron fist.We were averaging over 3,700 per month which included her 72 day rate before we finally switched trainers.Her live in husband/wife/girlfriend - Margo Flynn is so connected at Tampa that you can rest assure that no charges against Cibelli will ever come down.She gets everything she wants at this track.