February 11, 2020

Q and A with Chris Bagnall of HorseRaceBase

Hi Chris and many thanks for joining us this month. First up would you tell us a little about yourself and your background? What attracted you to the world of horse racing? 

Thanks for the invitation! I am Scottish and live on the West Coast, which is beautiful. I have one son, Jamie, who is a great lad. I have worked in many jobs over the years but ended up in offices doing clerical work, which in all honesty bored me senseless! I always loved horse racing (and other sports like football) and having fun bets on for interest purposes. 

What made you set up HorseRaceBase? What do you feel you are offering your users that other databases may not? For someone who may be new to HorseRaceBase where would you suggest they start in using the facilities HRB can offer? 

I had a lot of knowledge of Excel and started recording information to help me make my picks. A few of my friends were impressed so I started sharing the info. They made suggestions and eventually I decided to put the information online. I taught myself database management and coding and then when I was made redundant from my job I decided to try and make a go of the website. I thought up the name HorseRaceBase and then stuck a PayPal donate button on. It kind of just went on naturally from there. 

I feel the main difference between HorseRaceBase and other sites is that it is entirely built on user feedback. I think horse racing is quite unique in that people have such differing views and ideas they wish to explore and my aim has just always been to give that opportunity to as many people as I can for a fair price. In that respect, where to start on the site really depends on what the user wants to do, but I think just going to the cards initially would make sense. 

Do you use HRB for your own betting activities, assuming you bet yourself, or are you more interested in the statistics in general? If the latter, why? 

To be honest I very rarely bet nowadays as I spend so much time looking at it all for work reasons. But yeah if I am going to a meeting and have a few bets I would certainly use the site. 

Would you describe for us your typical working day? 

It always starts with a recap and data check on the previous days racing. Then I normally read and reply to emails and go through any ongoing stuff. If I need to deal with any other business or banks etc. I would do it in the morning when there is no racing on. Around 1pm I start work on the next day’s cards and depending on what is on this can be intense or no problem. It is when there are loads of new database additions it can drag and some races like Hunter Chases often throw up a few odd things that need checking (jockeys and so on). I keep an eye on all the racing and just do what I can to develop projects I am working on for the rest of the day. If I am loading anything new up to the site this normally needs done after 10pm when the site is quieter and there is no live racing ongoing. 

Managing a database of information such as HRB must give you a headache from time to time. How long has it taken you to build the database to where it is today? What automation techniques would you be able to share with any budding punter who may look to start building their own database of racing information? 

Managing the information is the hardest part but also the reason the site exists so I am not complaining. It has got to be fast and it needs to be accurate and the biggest issue is it just doesn’t stop growing and is on every day of the year bar Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 

It has taken 10 years to fine-tune things as they are but it is still in all honesty a big task to stay on top of. Automation can only go so far and if you rely too much on it then you will inevitably get errors. Anyone wishing to build data needs to get the right balance and find which sections of the data can be entirely automated, which require partial automation and finally those which need hand typing/checking. 

Do you have any interests in other sports outside of horseracing and if so which? Would you ever see HRB diversifying in to other sports? 

I love football and follow Scotland, Arsenal and Dundee Utd (all of whom cause headaches!). I have been asked to consider several other sports for similar style websites and it is certainly a possibility but realistically not for a while. 

Do you have any future plans to develop HRB further you can share with our readers and if so, what can they look forward to? 

I have many plans in the pipeline however listing them out is not something I would do because regrettably I have done so before and end up disappointing when a snag means it is delayed/cancelled. 

The racing industry is often criticised for having too many races and poor quality meetings with insufficient prize monies to encourage entries etc. Is there anything that you would like to see changed within the horse racing industry and why? 

My own personal feeling is that UK racing should look at Ireland and find a much better balance. In my opinion there are too many meetings in UK racing and a lot of it seems entirely to be there purely for bookmakers or for some other reason I do not understand. 

If I was to change anything it would be to cut the number of abysmal meetings that have next to no attendance and are in some cases embarrassing. Some days there are 5 or 6 meetings when 3 or 4 would be much more appropriate. 

What do you do to relax and unwind? What interests have you outside of horse racing? 

I am a keen jogger and swimmer and play quite a lot of football too. I do like a few beers now and again! I enjoy taking road trips with my son. I get on great with all my family and I find playing with my young nieces and nephews is the best way to make sure you never take life too seriously. 

Do you have any personal betting experiences or HRB highlights which, when reflecting back, bring a smile or for that matter any which bring a grimace; you can share with our readers? 

I can laugh about this now but at the time it was unbelievably annoying! 

When I first started up building the data I was very inexperienced and to be honest worked far too many hours to the point it was ridiculous. Anyway, one evening I was working on SQL databases and wanted to delete a table. 

I clicked a red X and a message popped up saying something like “you are about to delete the entire database, are you sure you wish to proceed”. Incredibly after some thought I pressed yes. 

They say you learn from your mistakes and to be fair it taught me a lot about making sure to have backups and getting a good night’s sleep! 

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