To the Tracks, Anyone?

Horse racing has been around for a long time. Archeological records have dated equestrian sports back to Ancient Greece, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt, with chariot racing becoming a main event in the Greek Olympics by 648BC. Horse racing since became a culture in America, too. The Jockey Club was established in 1775, and to this day still regulates breeding and racing. It is clear that people have been betting on horse races for a long time.


Well, when I used to live in Plainville, MA, there was a horse-racing track literally down the road from my apartment complex. They would primarily televise races from around the country, but would also have the occasional live-harness race (when the horses pull a driver in a sulky, or a light-weight cart). My husband would always try and convince me to go, but I never showed interest (and his quest to this day has been unsuccessful). However, after reading “The Poker Bubble”, I might give it a try next spring. Not that I think I will win a ton of money (though being a graduate student, it couldn’t hurt – look at how many people quit school and/or their jobs because they’re SO good at gambling. Not that I want to quit or anything) – but more so, because I’d like to observe how other people make their betting decisions. To see who’s “lucky” and who’s “skilled” at forecasting the outcome of the race.


Choosing the prize horse isn’t an untapped topic whatsoever, either. Just a quick amazon search for “How to win at horse racing” yielded 66 books (It also comes up with a book on Anna Nicole Smith, weird):

Horse racing has long been used as an example of Bayes Theorem in action. It requires betters to explicitly state how likely they believe an event to occur based on prior beliefs. What kinds of factors can we consider to be prior beliefs in this case? Probably things like: which horse has won in the past and out of how many total races and for those wins, was it raining or not raining?

Most importantly, we can then revise our opinion and update our probabilistic assessment of each horse following the race in preparation for the next. Using available information within context to reduce our prediction bias, and then testing our predictions, is the best way to get better [at winning money]. Silver writes “The more willing you are to test your ideas, the sooner you can begin to avoid these problems and learn from your mistakes.”

Well then, he’s convinced me. Anyone up for some horse races in the spring?


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