Detailed information to be widely available after advances in GPS technology
Racing fans will be able to place bets on mobile phone as race is being run
Racing fans will soon be able to place bets with a bookmaker on their mobile phone as races are being run, thanks to advances in GPS technology and data transmission times which could change the betting landscape for casual and committed gamblers alike. Detailed information on sectional times within races, precisely how much ground each horse has covered, its stride length and pattern, and how quickly it clears an obstacle over jumps will also be more widely available, as racing starts to fully appreciate – and exploit – the wealth of data it generates.
The Guardian understands that a leading online bookmaker will announce the launch of in-running betting within the next few weeks, and others are sure to follow its lead. Customers will bet via an app which presents data on the position of every horse in a race with an average accuracy of no worse than 0.1m, and with a time-lag of 0.1sec or less from live.
Post-race, information including every runner’s speed at different stages will be available for analysis by punters and professionals as they try to understand the result in more detail and identify horses whose performance may have been affected by positioning, interference or the way the race was run.
“Big data”, in other words, is finally coming to British racing, and not before time. Previous attempts to extract speed and other performance data from races have run into a range of obstacles, including the wide variety of tracks and layouts in Britain and the sheer intensity with which a race such as a five-furlong sprint can unfold. There were doubts, too, about the market for the information, but a number of technological advances mean that live data, in particular, should now have significant value.
“We couldn’t have done this even two years ago,” Will Duff Gordon, chief executive of Total Performance Data, a company leading the way in speed sensing technology, said on Friday. “The original milestone was in 2000, when Bill Clinton allowed civilian access to military level accuracy, but over time governments have invested more and more. Glonass is the Russian satellite we can connect to and hasn’t been available to non-Russians for that long, and Europe has its own system called Galileo, which is coming on stream now.
“The positional fix comes down from the satellite, hits our tag [in the horse’s saddlecloth] and our tag reports back to the grandstand and on to a customer, comfortably within 0.1sec. In terms of real-time position fixes getting to customers from the horse’s back, it’s pretty much live. I don’t think anyone can come close to us in terms of the latency [lag] of the content, and what we’ve now done is to find a market for that content.”
Initially, that market will be bookmakers and punters, and casual, quick-fix punters in particular. The margin – or over-round – built in to the in-running prices is likely to be significant while the bookies test and develop the new market, and refine the algorithm generating the odds. The odds may not compare favourably, for instance, with the in-running markets on Betfair, which have been a feature of the exchange since its launch, but as increasing numbers of exchange backers appreciate, the Betfair markets are dominated by racecourse-based players with access to the fastest pictures of the action.
If shrewd punters looking for real value in the bookies’ in-running markets may be disappointed, however, they should find much to interest them in the wealth of data which every race creates, both on the Flat and, in time, over jumps.
“We can’t wait to do it for the jumps,” Duff Gordon said. “We’re going to look at things like how much ground is lost over fences, meaning the speed and fluency of jumping. We’ll need a bigger boat to tackle jumps at the same time, but the hardware will all work. It’s more to do with the software and finding your timing points, because they will be fences and not furlong poles. There will need to be survey data for all the fences, and we need to deal with things like when the race starts, because they go round in circles and then start. But we’ve done a couple of jumps fixtures and that’s going to be a project in the first quarter next year.
“The same box [which transmits GPS data] can also report live how many strides per second the horse is doing, and we will start to release stride-length data at the end of October, which is another exciting development.”
And it is not only the horses whose performance will be scrutinised as data capture and analysis increases. Which riders are the most dependable when it comes to finding an efficient path through a race? How long, on average, does it take a jump jockey to get his mount over a fence, and which jockey’s mounts are the slickest at the business end of a steeplechase? The list of questions that could soon have a sensible answer is almost endless.
A horse race is an ephemeral blur of speed, colour and chance, and some might prefer it to stay that way. But technology now promises to provide an x-ray, to reveal its internal dynamics in increasing detail, and those who choose to look may find the fascinations of a 250-year-old sport are not diminished, but enhanced.