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Trakus

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About Trakus

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Everett, Massachusetts, 02149,

United States

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Latest Trakus News

Horse Racing Is Having Its Moneyball Moment: Big Data Derby Is Prompting Racing Organizations to Analyze Data for Improved Racin...

Dec 7, 2022

Horse Racing Is Having Its Moneyball Moment: Big Data Derby Is Prompting Racing Organizations to Analyze Data for Improved Racing, Training The Big Data Derby, crowdsourced innovation challenge in which participants received tracking data collected from horses racing at New York Racing Association tracks in 2019, announced the winners of its inaugural competition. December 7, 2022 Handicappers at the horse track all hold their own theories and conjectures about who will win the next race, mining programs for split times and race histories, bloodlines and surfaces. On any given day, the rail may be golden or dead. And then there are questions about how much impact the jockey has. Joe Appelbaum played college football at Yale before coaching the sport for seven years at five schools, most notably working with Wayne Chrebet at Hofstra and Victor Cruz at UMass. He then got into horse racing as co-founder of Off the Hook, a breeding and training outfit, and has been president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA) since 2017. Seeing the progress of data adoption in his former sport and the opportunity to do the same in his new one, Appelbaum and NYTHA partnered with the New York Racing Association (NYRA) — proprietors of Belmont Park, Saratoga and Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens — to launch the Big Data Derby , a crowdsourced innovation challenge in which participants received tracking data collected from horses racing at NYRA tracks in 2019. “The motivation was mostly my frustration with us not using the tools of modern sport, per se,” Appelbaum says. “I had been following the sports analytics movement for a long time. Like everyone else who says stuff like that, I started reading Bill James baseball abstracts back in the 1980s. Because I was a football coach, I saw what the NFL had done with the Big Data Bowl , and I was particularly envious.” Competition results The Big Data Derby announced the winners of its inaugural competition on Tuesday at the Racetrack Industry Symposium in Arizona. Winning $20,000 for first place was a team led by Brendan Kumagai, a Zelus Analytics data scientist who previously won the 2022 NFL Big Data Bowl and the 2021 Big Data Cup , a hockey competition sponsored by Stathletes. Second, third and fourth places all received $10,000 apiece. More than 9,300 people accessed the data files, and 106 ultimately submitted entries. NYRA and NYTHA led the charge, but it attracted interest and sponsors from across the country, including Equibase, The Jockey Club, The Breeder’s Cup, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. Kumagai’s work was entitled “Bayesian Velocity Models for Horse Race Simulation,” and it created jockey ratings, horse profiles and win probabilities. Appelbaum shared a few “semi-conclusions” — interesting postulates that require further vetting — that suggested drafting existed but its importance was overstated and that sprints down the stretch were largely a myth. Those late pushes were a visual trick; by and large, no horse actually accelerates at the end but some decline less than others. “I think you get a lot of groupthink in racing or, really, in any small circle, right?” says Joe Longo, NYRA GM of content services. “And we look at things with blinkers on. This was an opportunity to say, ‘All right, well, here's how we looked at it. What else can you tell us?’” The instructions deliberately left the areas of data exploration open-ended, with Appelbaum explaining, "We didn't know what we don't know. We really had no idea where the breakthroughs would come. So I wanted to kind of keep things loose a little to let people use their imaginations and use their own motivations to go down the rabbit hole that they felt most appropriate.” Taking a page from football What made the Big Data Derby possible is that NYRA tracks already had been collecting the necessary data via Trakus , a horse-worn sensor that communicates positional data to small antennas around the course. The Trakus system is analogous to the Zebra RFID tags powering the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, but to date, it had only been employed for broadcast graphics. If the concept, name and host site (Kaggle) all bear a resemblance to the NFL’s annual contest, that was intentional. Not only does Appelbaum have roots in football, but he also called the NFL’s senior director of football data and analytics, Michael Lopez, for advice. Over a few calls, the two discussed the vision and execution of such public competitions, including the benefit of publishing previously unavailable data. Lopez was uniquely positioned to offer counsel on horse racing. Prior to joining the NFL, he was a statistics professor at Skidmore College, a two-mile drive from Saratoga Race Course. When he started in the role back in 2014, Lopez wanted to take advantage of the proximity for some real-world case studies by assigning students projects using horse racing data. The problem, however, is that Lopez couldn’t get his hands on any data, noting that horse racing is “a sport that, I think, traditionally had not been all that forthcoming with data, which I think in some sense is similar to historical American football culture.” But he knew there was a hearty group of sports-minded data scientists who would be eager for the challenge if it were available. Repurposing the famed line from Field of Dreams, Lopez says, “If you share the data, they will analyze it.” After all, the prize money is one incentive but so too is Kaggle record of the entry, which can be parlayed into job applications. “It's not just that we're looking at it from a standpoint of, 'Oh, this is great, there's X amount of data that can be used for any number of industry applications,’” Longo says. “But this also brings a whole new talent pool for the industry to hire. And if we're really going to move forward in terms of modernizing the sport and revolutionizing things, these are the type of people that we need in order to do that.” 'A real analytics movement within horse racing' NYRA and NYTHA echoed the sentiment that this isn’t intended as a one-off. The hope is to implement ideas and invest further in data science. “Between the racetrack and the horsemen’s group, there's general agreement that we need to add machine learning staff or consultants, better information collection, so better both GPS and heart rate monitoring,” Appelbaum says. “You won’t see this tomorrow. These are broad themes, but we’re spending money on these themes. We want to be at the forefront of this, especially in the States. “I hope this is a spur to a real analytics movement within horse racing,” he adds. “I think right now the only ones who are using real analytics are probably some of the high-end gamblers. And that's typical in most sports, right? They're the first ones in the door. But I think we have used traditional approaches to trying to manage horse race performance, welfare, etc. at the track for, I don't know, 100 years, and now we have these tools in front of us that need to be put to use if we're going to if we're going to improve things." Among the areas of interest is horse welfare. Appelbaum says the number of horses breaking down in New York has declined about 50% over the past decade, but realizing further gains is growing harder. Having more data on energy expenditure and load management in races, as well as heart rate monitoring and EKG, will help if analyzes properly. More tools are joining Trakus on the market, too. Chyron’s TRACAB, for instance, recently launched its Horse Tracking System , a wearable that uses satellite navigation systems such as GPS. All of this could be fodder for future Big Data Derbies. “It also is just a logical extension of just NYRA in general and our organization’s embrace of science and technology,” Longo says. “Racing has kind of lagged behind other sports just in terms of modernization, and we're hoping this is really the first step in bringing data analytics and machine learning to the forefront.” Photo credits: Horsephotos/Getty Images

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Trakus Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • Where is Trakus's headquarters?

    Trakus's headquarters is located at Everett.

  • What is Trakus's latest funding round?

    Trakus's latest funding round is Other Investors.

  • Who are the investors of Trakus?

    Investors of Trakus include VIMAC Ventures.

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