Just got back from an afternoon with friends at the Del Mar Racetrack, watching the horse races.
This is only the second time I've been to horse races, and I was really just there for the fun and the company, not expecting win anything since I certainly don't have the knowledge needed to put the odds anything close to in my favour. And nor did anybody else there; the others with me that I asked said their strategies for picking horses were:
- pick a particular colour in each race (in this case, pink)
- pick the names you like best
- bet on the horse with the longest odds (backing the underdog ... or underhorse I suppose)
Reverting to my scientific training not to mention game design habits of thought, I decided to take the opportunity to do a little experiment. My plan: in each of the races I would put a bet on two horses to win.
- logical method: the horse ridden by the best of the top 3 jockeys listed for most wins this season; or if none of the top jockeys were in the race, the expert's recommendation in the official race booklet listing the race details;
- irrational method: the horse with the most romantic sounding name.
Then I would compare the overall results and see if there was a significant difference.
Here are the results (I missed the first 2 races as I arrived late):
- Logical pick: Awesome Annie. First place winner.
- Irrational pick: Wink and Wish. Didn't place.
- Logical pick: God of War. First place winner.
- Irrational pick: Nearly Was Mine. Didn't place.
- Logical pick: Gab Power. Placed third.
- Irrational pick: Until You. Didn't place.
- Logical pick: Starlight Magic. First place winner.
- Irrational pick: River Kiss. Didn't place.
- Logical pick: Flashy Dame. Didn't place.
- Irrational pick: Romantic Wish. Placed 2nd.
- Logical pick: Take Control. Didn't place.
- Irrational pick: Prayer for Relief (ok, not a very romantic name, but choices in this race were very limited...) Didn't place.
- Logical pick: Smoken Legacy. Placed 2nd.
- Irrational pick: Frisky Moment. Didn't place.
Final conclusion: out of 7 races, the logical choice based on my criteria above won 3 and placed 5 times (placed means 1st or 2nd). The irrational pick based solely on the name didn't win at all and placed only once.
While this certainly isn't a big enough sample size to be statistically significant, it's still a pretty suggestive difference. I used the jockey win record as a basis for picking the winner because it seemed logical and just happened to be available in the race booklet. I imagine it would be possible to take a little longer to study more information and find some other important factors besides the jockey's track record which would give better odds. (I'm told my grandfather used to supplement a meagre student income by betting fairly successfully on horses, but felt it was appropriate to give this up when he became a clergyman.)
That said, the successful jockeys are riding good horses and are expected to perform well, so the odds on the bets don't return a whole lot. For races 3 and 4 I just doubled my bet, and for bet 6 I quadrupled it, but these do not make the kind of big wins you retire on. Overall I still did not break even (I was betting on each horse to win). If I'd bet on the horses to place (first or second) instead of win, I would have won 5 times instead of 3, but won only half as much money since that changes the odds, so I still don't think I would have come out ahead.
All of which just goes to show that:
- randomly picking names is not a good way to bet on horses;
- jockey experience does seem to make a big difference to a horse's success;
- I am probably not going to retire based on horse betting winnings; and
- being romantic doesn't pay off.