Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Making Decisions - In Betting, HOY Votes & Racings Future

I continue to be fascinated with both the press and general football fan reaction to the Bill Belichick 4th down decision in Sunday's game. As most know, the coach went for it on 4th down instead of punting. The visceral reaction to such a call (because it steps out of the mainstream) is "holy smokes he is nuts", but when we look deeper we find out that it might not be so nuts at all. I read this article this morning which cites a University football decision making software's take on the odds, based on historical numbers, called "Zeus".

"Zeus can simulate hundreds of thousands of possible outcomes of a specific scenario. Zeus determined the probability of a Patriots' victory was higher with Belichick going for the first down rather than punting and putting the game into the hands of his defense versus the Peyton Manning-led offense. But Zeus seems to be in a minority."

Then the article lists - based on "gut" mostly - reaction on the other side.

It reminds me back in the 1980's when super-trainers were starting to make noise. A horse with a poor speed figure, or who has never gone 158 before, would go 157 off a claim in a certain barn. Time and time again when this barn change (or barn changes like them) was made, old time handicappers would not believe it and constantly discount the barn change factor due to long held beliefs. The angle might go 10 for 21, yet the horses would consistently pay good money, and handicappers would continue to fade the move. It was too new, too different, and did not fit into their prism as a capper. Now, a generation later, trainer changes are perhaps the most overbet angle in racing.

We spoke a little bit about this phenomenon for handicapping in our "betting without validation" post while back, and I am amazed how much it goes on elsewhere. We see it in football, at work every day, in places like government who tend to make decisions based on history rather than real life today. The hand washing example has stuck with me since reading it.

Alan at Left at the Gate seems as interested as I am in decision making in racing and elsewhere, and posts up some notes on Horse of the Year voting (thanks for the linkback, and the fixing of my grammar, which needs to be done often in my five minute post writing). He takes a stand about the Breeders Cup, believing that owners should be pointing their horses towards it and treating it as a championship day:

Mike Watchmaker agrees with the above opinion, but adds: Rachel Alexandra should not be penalized for not competing in the Breeders' Cup.

Here, I respectfully disagree with the esteemed Racing Form columnist. Is it a "requirement," as in a "prerequisite?" No, certainly not.

So as long as the Breeders' Cup exists and bills itself as a championship event, it better damn well be a crucial determinant of the year-end awards. I believe that some judicial activism on the part of the voters to encourage intransigent owners who hold out for no other reason than to serve their own interests and ego is not only appropriate, but demanded.

I completely agree with this, and do as well for our end of year championship. We need to sell this game, and we need owners supporting Championship races. The best horses should be attending this event, if they are able. 3,000 people watched Rachel Alexandra in the Mother Goose. 60,000 people and millions worldwide watched Zenyatta in the Breeders Cup. We need the latter and one way to do it is to make sure these races are looked at as a 'must' for year end honours.

Last up on the decision making front, Andrew Cohen, CBS News dude and harness racing owner, has reiterated his desire to get something done in harness racing and if so, be the lead on such an effort. In the latest edition of Trot radio Andrew speaks about the game, suspensions and leadership from his perspective. Despite hearing over and over again that "this can not be done", I firmly believe it will be done; so I figure we might as well make a decision start now. I believe we are a lot closer to doing something than people think.


Anonymous said...

No Rachel should not be penalized for not going to the B.C. but Zenyatta's connections should be penalized for scratching out of the Louisville a race that was run on a good surface, and the same surface Rachel won by 20 1/4 lengths on. They should be penalized for ducking significant races where competition showed up in on the East coast like the Go For Wand, the Personal Ensign, and the Beldame, they should be penalized for not taking their horse to run in the Pacific Classic or Goodwood, races that the fans begged to see her in to prove herself that she could be a champion race horse all year long instead of just on 1 day ala 2008 Apple Blossom early season and L.C. late season in 2009 4 of perhaps the weakest fields that a horse could run against and then taking a calculated risk when Sea of Stars didnt show up and Rachel didnt come to run again 4 dirt horses that hated the surface 4 snythetic horses that were lower tier and 3 Euros that had hard campaigns all year. But lets not look at all the things that the Zen camp didnt do lets look at what she actually did this year. Lets stack them up for discussion. Rachel defeated fillies by 58 lengths total this year, Zenyatta defeated her competition by 6 total lengths Rachel’s best 9f time was 1:46.33 besting a mark set by Ruffian in the process, Zenyatta’s best time at 9f was 1:48.15 that is 7 ½ lengths slower, Rachel beat Summer Bird on a surface that he preferred by 6 lengths and Zenyatta beat the same horse on a surface that he hated so much he was shipped East to race as a 3 year old by 3 lengths. She’s a better synthetic horse but championships have been won on Dirt for hundreds of years, not on synthetics in the last 3 years. If Zenyatta was so superior they would have had no problem shipping her east to face Rachel as they said they were going to in June. I feel sorry for Zenyatta as her legacy will be one with an * when the synthetic surfaces are no more and her connections didnt let her prove her worth on dirt consistently. 2009 Horse of the Year goes to the horse that was most consistent and had the HOY campaign, the one and only Alexandra the Great!!!!!!!

dana said...

Decision making is definitely a fascinating thing. One of things I love about horse racing is that forces me to make decisions in situations where the outcome is not always (or anywhere near) clear.

But the issue I have with the BC argument is that it minimizes the full campaign in consideration for HOY. I think it's entirely fair to say 1 BC Classic race does not equal 3 Classic other comparable races (Preakness, Haskell, Woodward).

Yes, I think the industry should embrace championships and promote the hell out of them, namely by using the marketing machine behind the Derby to springboard the rest of the year (and even the rest of the TC). But can it really be called HOY if the inclusion in any single race within a type of race (Classics, e.g.,) is mandatory or more heavily weighted than others? IMHO we don't really need horses running any less frequently.

SaratogaSpa said...

About a month ago Sports Illustrated ran an article on a High School Coach that never lets his team punt on 4th down. He figured out the odds are better if he keeps his offense on the field for the 4th down. It was real interesting on a handicapping level.

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