Key Factors: How many is too many?
I find that a new year is a good time to improve your horse race analysis and take a look at how your betting methodology is going. Do you need to improve your strategies? Do you need to reassess where things are failing? All questions, as punters we have, to answer at one time or more.
There are plenty of factors or variables to consider when deciding whether to back or lay a horse. Now I am not sure how many there are but the estimates I have seen seem to vary from 17 to 88! Whatever the actual numbers are, we do know that there are too many for the average punter to look into without specialist tools or software. So what we have to try to do is to; gather the relevant information, then order it in terms of relevance and importance and then organise the information in such a way that enables us to make winning betting decisions.
The only way that you can make sustainable profit from horse race betting is to put in the ‘hard yards’. Sadly there are no shortcuts that can circumvent the process apart from going through all the key variables that can affect the outcome of a horse race. The big advantage that we punters have over the bookmakers is that we can decide whether we want to bet in a race or not whilst they have to price up every race. This gives us ample scope to find the ‘edge’ over them. It is of course this ‘edge’ that enables us to make money from betting on horse’s long term.
Now it’s impossible to say that a horse is definitely going to win a race but we can use these key variables to point to the strong probability that the horse will win or be placed in any given race.
In this article I am going to examine which important factors are more relevant than others and whether you need to take into account as many variables as possible or can you do with less. I will begin by looking at information and its impact on betting decision-making.
Can Punters Have too Much Information?
The implicit assumption that is often made is that a lack of information is a major obstacle when it comes to make informed betting decisions.
Just recently, it was announced that race cards will carry a new piece of information on whether a horse had been subject to a wind operation since its last race. This created much debate in the racing press and social media as to how useful information would be to punters given the wide variety wind ops that are carried out on racehorses each year. The general view was that all new knowledge was to be welcomed and the more information that a punter had at his or her disposal should be welcomed.
Now, I am not going to argue that recent wind ops shouldn’t be available to punters, far from it. But will this new extra bit of information lead to punters making more accurate predictions? Not necessarily so. Most of you will be familiar with the term ‘information overload’.
“Information Overload is when you are trying to deal with more information than you are able to process to make sensible decisions. The result is either that you either delay making decisions or that you make the wrong decisions”.*Source: Infoengineering.net.
More Means Less!
There are plenty of academic studies from experimental psychologists, mostly North American, using experts in various fields from medicine to weather forecasting that have examined the complex relationship between the amount of information available to the experts, the accuracy of judgments they make based on this information, and the experts' confidence in the accuracy of their judgments.
This research has come up with some interesting results and one of the many study groups used was horse racing handicappers to see how they use information to arrive at decisions.
The study involved used eight experienced handicappers who were shown a list off 88 variables – for example weight carried, the percentage of races in which the horse finished first, second or third during the previous 12 months, the trainer’s record at a particular track and the number of days since the horses last run, etc.
I won’t go too much into the methodology of the study but it’s neatly summarised in Richard J. Heuer Jr “Psychology of Intelligence Analysis” for those of you looking for further reading on the subject.
“Each handicapper was asked to identify, first, what he considered to be the five most important items of information–those he would wish to use to handicap a race if he were limited to only five items of information per horse. Each was then asked to select the 10, 20, and 40 most important variables he would use if limited to those levels of information”.
At this point, the handicappers were given true data (sterilized so that horses and actual races could not be identified) for 40 past races and were asked to rank the top five horses in each race in order of expected finish. Each handicapper was given the data in increments of the 5, 10, 20 and 40 variables he had judged to be most useful. Thus, he predicted each race four times–once with each of the four different levels of information. For each prediction, each handicapper assigned a value from 0 to 100 percent to indicate degree of confidence in the accuracy of his prediction.
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