Horse Racing's Action Bias Is Not Healthy

Action bias is a powerful thing, especially in an outrage biased world. When something happens, it's still very much preferred to be doing something, rather than calmly examining the facts at hand, and, formulating a plan; a plan that could easily involve doing nothing at all.

In behavioral economics I thought this was best explained through soccer goalkeepers. It's been proven that the action that gives goalies the best chance to stop a penalty shot is by standing directly in the middle and doing, well, nothing. This doesn't happen, and if it did, the goalie would likely be looking for a new job after his or her first loss. "I can't believe he just stood there, he has to go!" So much for following math.

In horse racing this is so very prevalent.

When people call for lasix to be banned, it, in my view, has plenty of action bias. When's the last time in the response to a crisis have you heard, "let's have a look at this and come up with a smart phase-out plan for lasix over five or ten years, and reexamine the results for efficacy and business interests." That doesn't make cable news.

In 1920, 1940, 1965, 1970, 1990 and 2010 when horse racing had takeout hikes to make more immediate money (and in some cases appease money-hungry governments), it represented the ultimate action bias. Have you ever heard anyone put a multi-year, multi-jurisdictional pricing plan together to examine efficacy? The flip side is even worse when it comes to using numbers and data and patience - just ask Canterbury Park.

Even synthetic tracks, which science has been very kind to in terms of their reduction of fatal breakdowns, was a mess. Dead horses in California made for "immediate action" of ripping out every track and replacing it with poly or pro-ride. Then, after complaints, many of which had more action bias than a political speech from a total wacko, they ripped 'em up again. Nice use of science, folks. Gold stars.

The very odd time racing looks at things long-term, there tends to be some good done more often than not. Take for example NTRA accreditation and the EID database. Your average, every day action bias guy or gal doesn't think much of them, but the data they've allowed for, and the PR (at times) is pretty darn effective. If your track is not a part of it, why the hell not?

One of horse racing's biggest issues is that they're married to the status quo, and this doesn't bring about change. This is valid. However, an often overlooked criticism is that when they actually do do something it's filled with action bias. I think this might be as important as the former.

Have a nice Monday folks.


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