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.
Small sample size but trainer Jane Cibelli 0-for-6 after vet Orlando Paraliticci banned at Tampa Bay Downs. Was 14-for-32 before.She has been on fire and it's been noticeable to any horseplayer.
— Ray Paulick (@raypaulick) February 8, 2013
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.