100 Years of Assistance in Playing the Ponies

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Frank Deford has an interesting piece on SI.com about the 100th anniversary of the Daily Racing Form printing the esoteric and confusing past performance statistics for horse races. Deford writes “The scales fall from your eyes when you learn to read past performances. There are various signposts in your youth which speak to growing up: your first kiss, your first shave, your first drink of hard liquor. For me, it was the first day I could understand past performances. I became a man among men that glorious adolescent afternoon.”

After the jump, you’ll see why figuring out the form was such a memorable event for Deford.

I took one entry of the Daily Racing Form for one horse. For space reasons, I had to cut it in half of its length. So if you picked up the paper, the two graphics below would be one entry. With the first graphic on the left and the second graphic on the right. Here’s a full-size entry, although it’s going to be so tiny you probably won’t be able to read it.

This information is repeated for every horse in every race. Also, information about the track and the type of race is included in the form, although I didn’t show it here.

Graphic #1

I marked a section of the text with a red box. Inside this red box, here is what the information presented tells you about this horse:
-The horse is number 1 in the race
-The name is Silver Wagon
-The owner is Buckram Oak Farm
-The silks worn by the jockey are green with a red hoop on the sleeves and a red cap
-The Jockey is Velasquez and the information in the first set of parenthesis is his career stats and in the second pair are his 2005 stats

In the blue box, here’s what the information presented tells you about this horse:
-Gr/ro is the horse’s color, in this case gray to roan
-The c. is the horse’s sex, in this case a colt
-The 4 is the horse’s age
-The sire is the horse’s father, in this case Wagon Limit and the name inside the parenthesis is the sire’s sire, or in this case, Conquistador Cielo, and the dollar figure listed beside is the stud fee paid to breed to this sire
-The dam is the horse’s mother, following the same formatting as the sire, but since we’re talking moms here, they don’t get stud fees
-The info after the Br: is the breeder and the parenthesis includes the state where the horse was conceived

Graphic #2

In the green box, here is what the information tells you:
-The L stands for medication the horse is on, in this case lasix
-The 117 is the weight the horse is carrying, in other words, the tiny jockey fresh from the sweat box who pound for pound might be the toughest athlete in sports
-The Life line, 2005 line, and 2004 line show the horse’s results and earnings
-The Sar line shows the horse’s results for this particular track, Saratoga

In the purple box, this is what the information tells you:
-The D. Fst line shows the horse’s results for races that took place on dirt tracks with fast conditions
-The Wet line shows the horse’s results for races that took place on dirt tracks with wet conditions and the number is parenthesis is the Tomlinson’s track rating
-The Turf line shows the horse’s results for races that took place on turf tracks and the number in parenthesis is the Tomlinson’s track rating
-The Dst line shows the distance/surface record

Okay, it’s too early in the morning and I’m running out of steam so we’ll leave the heavy-duty statistics part of the past performances information for another discussion. But if you look at the brown box, the comments, those are the real art and magic to the entries. These comments are provided for every entry and are the key moment of the race for that particular horse. In this case, there was one race where Silver Wagon was “bumped st, no rally” which means he got bumped in the stretch and didn’t respond with any type of rally. Or, in the first entry, you’ll see that Silver Wagon came through with a “game finish inside” so he completed strongly on the inside, even though he didn’t place.

Old school gamblers pour over the comments the way an archeologist examines hieroglyphics. And that’s a thought I’ll follow-up on another post when I have more time and hopefully it will be clear what all this has to do with writing. Meanwhile, everyone should now be at least somewhat equipped to lose all your rent money at the track. It is the first of the month after all and Arlington, Charles Town, Del Mar, Monmouth Park, River Downs, and Saratoga are all running this weekend.

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