AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

SIMON NOTT: Will they regret letting the GPS Genie out of the bottle?

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]arlier this month an excellent article by Greg Wood was posted on the Guardian website and it got quite a lot of share attention on social media. The story (CLICK HERE FOR LINK) was that an on-line bookmaker, at time of writing still unknown, was going to embrace ‘big data’ in a move that was likely to ‘shift racing’s betting landscape’. Due to the wonders of modern satellite navigation and GPS technology all manner of information was going to be made available. Sectional timings, stride length and ground covered by each horse were going to be recorded and made public during and after the race with post-race analysis made available to all. ‘We couldn’t have done this even two years ago’, confided Will Duff Gordon, chief executive of Total Performance Data who went on to explain about things like satellites from Russia and exciting future developments were in hand to analyse jump racing too. Cutting edge and all very exciting to most in racing I’d imagine, real 2017 stuff.

Well it looked like it until an article from The Sporting Life (below) was drawn to my attention. It was written by David Stewart and published in May 1996. It was about an event at Wolverhampton races on the 25th of the same month, the trialing of a chip that would provide racing fans with accurate sectional times for the first time and could be instantly broadcast in real time to the Internet. A company called ‘Champion Chip’ were providing the knowhow using technology that, at the time, was the size of marker pens but needed no battery inserted into saddle cloths. The trials were heralded as a success. Richard Muddle the Clerk Of The Course at Wolverhampton said ‘It’s clear that this is the future’ and that it would prove ‘advantageous to punters of the future’.

I’m not sure that Richard was looking quite this far into the future when he made that statement. So what’s happened? Well to be fair, as we probably all know to a certain extent, things have moved on, there have been forays into sectionals since then, there are currently sectional timings available on the Racehorse Owners Association site and TurfTrax have been around for getting on a decade but hardly a big part of UK racing and not, as far as I know, enjoying bookie funding. In short, this could be a whole new level of information never before available to anyone.

The depth of data that is muted is the sort that will have punting computer programmers and algorithm aficionados salivating at the very thought of it. The information that is potentially going to be on offer could be lethal in the hands of the sort of shrewd and shadowy punters that currently clean up on a daily basis. Going back a few years there used to be some ratings that could also be described as lethal, RSB. They were available to all from 9am for I think a score for just ratings and £40 including prices. Whilst they were excellent, anyone who just backed the top rated blindly would do their dough over time, but in the right hands they were a gold mine. Those punters who showed the dedication to crunch the numbers over tens of thousands of races cracked the code. People talk flippantly about having the game by the crown jewels, in a less savoury manor than that these days, but those punters really did.

There would have been wailing from form book festooned studies the world over when the boffins behind RSB decided to call it a day six or so years go. I know for a fact that there were overtures made for the knowledge that was the golden goose formula behind those ratings. Legend has it that they did find their way to a private backer for whom they would have been and no doubt still are priceless, but hey, who knows, maybe the purchaser for personal use only was a bookie, though I doubt it.

Which brings me back to the new technology and data that could revolutionise form study. It strikes me as weird that a bookmaker is funding it. Even more so that a bookmaker is going to fund it and hopes to make money letting punters bet them in running. I’d be very worried that, having funded and nurtured that data expecting it to work for you, it is going to turn on you. My money is on the super-punters that lurk out there out-thinking the bookmakers, their bots battering the bookies’ bots into submission. Of course, accounts will be closed and shutters put up but the genie will be out of the lamp and it’s the still the bookmakers’ coffers that will get plundered, the live money always gets back to them one way or another.

If I was a bookmaker and held the lamp with that particular form and data genie in it I’d think long and hard before rubbing it!

Simon Nott

skintmobSimon Nott is author of Skint Mob!: Tales from the Betting Ring