Editor’s Note: the following is part of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation’s weekly `Free-Data Friday’ series.
#FreeDataFriday-VOLUME 16: CONFESSIONS OF A MILLENNIAL BETTOR AND DATA HOUND
TIF Note: To those who control the keys to data in American racing–The Jockey Club, Equibase, Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America–and to the owners of Thoroughbreds who wish to continue racing, enjoying prize money and a more sustainable sport, we suggest you read this first-person account carefully, considering how these organizations can create a better future for engaging customers with vastly improved data offerings or risk losing yet another generation.
by John Camardo
I was introduced to horse racing at the age of 25, in a bar, on Cinco de Mayo 2017. There was a promotional spot for an ADW offering free money to sign-up. They had hats and I wanted one.
Long story short–I wake up the next morning a bit groggy, with a hat, missed calls from a pizza delivery that never quite happened and no betting account. But I remembered the lure of the promo and figured I would give it a shot.
At first, I was just betting using “expert” picks–finding information on racing when starting from zero is more challenging than you would think. Spending 4% of my $50 bankroll to purchase a digital, basic PP form, seemed absurd. I searched for free PPs and found them. Yonkers happened to offer them one day a week–so I started playing harness racing.
My fascination grew with more research. The amount of data packed into a few pages of the free day’s PDF was astounding to me at the time, even with just the basics provided. I binged on handicapping books, hoping to expedite the learning process. Eventually, I found an ADW that offered free PPs if I wagered (but also the tough lesson–on a small bankroll–that if I didn’t play, I’d be charged for the PPs).
After months of dabbling, I decided that it was time to build a proper database.
I spent hundreds of hours building the cheapest thing possible and had a great sense of accomplishment when I thought it was ready to go. I created my first handicapping model, my first computer-generated odds line. To myself, I was a pioneer.
As my understanding of the data and how to model it improved, my handle increased. I could spend far less time handicapping (the model was doing that), and more time betting and enjoying racing. My handle in a day was exceeding handle from my first two years of betting combined.
But with this increased familiarity with American racing data came some greater frustrations. I began to realize that which I’d spent tireless hours collecting was nothing short of garbage. Times were off. Run-up was nearly impossible to find in entries. There was very little uniformity. I had built what I thought could be my own personal racing empire on, well, a lot of garbage. And in the world of modeling, much like in the real world, the saying “garbage in, garbage out” holds true.
I did find some success. I have made multiple four-figure scores with my model, which is more than I had ever imagined was feasible. Remember–I was starting from zero. And now, I am betting far more.
Why though, was I spending so much time maintaining, cleaning and fixing data? Was nothing else out there better?
I’m sure this sounds naive to some industry veterans, and would potentially scare off my contemporaries pursuing the same thing. In a few short years of engagement, having randomly bumped into horse racing in a New York bar and really quite liking it–I found myself frustrated with the quality of the “local” product.
I started to look abroad in December 2019. As I write this, I have almost an equal amount of data on British and Hong Kong racing as I can claim for two years of time with U.S. racing. Also, it’s free.
Pair that with: higher quality data (sectional times in Hong Kong are nothing short of spectacular), more of it (workouts and vet records at the click of a button, and free), more uniformity in racing (the handicap system, and classes outside of the U.S. are a modeler’s dream) and frankly, better quality racing (bigger fields, transparency and integrity), and I can’t help but feel ecstatic every day I have the proposition of betting in these overseas markets.
I do not want to give up on U.S. racing.
I still bet in our markets. I am, however, shifting a hefty percentage of my wagering to foreign racing. The data has proved to be better. I know that only because there was essentially no barrier or cost to entry. I knew nothing about foreign racing a few months back. With free and easy to access data, now I do, and I plan on refining it over time.
In my experience, freely accessible data is always the best bet.
John Camardo, 27, is a Cornell University graduate with a degree in operations management and information engineering. He lives in New York, working in the financial services industry and is a contributor to the In The Money Players’ Podcast with Peter Thomas Fornatale.