A Mathematician’s Approach for Winning a Horse Race

Every jockey wants to win each race, but there is no standard method as it depends on lots of variables that are not easy to control. A mathematician’s approach of starting fast, but saving enough energy for the last furlough can be the game-changer.  

GPS Trackers made things interesting

The saying ‘horses for courses’ is not a cliché. Each horse has different capabilities. Similar to athletes running in various track events, horses also have ‘their particular USP. Some horses are good at sprinting, and some are good for long-distance racing. It is the jockey’s job to identify the potential of his horse and enter the appropriate racing event. Most of them use experience, previous data, and instincts to make their decision.

Amandine Aftalion, a mathematician from Paris, has analyzed several high-performing running athletes like sprinter Usain Bolt since 2013. As per her research, short-distance runners tend to win the race when they start quickly, and then gradually slow down. But, in a 1600 m race, a medium distance event, the best running method is to start fast, settle down in the middle, and then finish with a burst.  

To test her theory on horses, Amandine Aftalion teamed up with her fellow mathematician Quentin Mercier. They used the GPS tracking tool placed in French racing saddles and plotted the actual time speed and position data. The patterns were studied, and a mathematical model was developed for horse race winning strategies for three different races.

  • A short race of 1300 m 
  • A medium race of 1900m 
  • A longer race of 2100m 

This model considered not only the race distances, but also the size, the bend of the track curves, slopes, and the friction of the track surface. The results might shock the jockeys who use slow start and quick finish strategies. Instead, the mathematicians suggested that a strong initial burst leads to a better finish. But there is a catch here: The horse will feel exhausted at the final stretch if the jockey goes too hard at the start.

Suggestions from the mathematical model

The model developed by Amandine Aftalion allows trainers to add parameters for each horse, such as 

  • Aerobic capacities to make customized racing strategies
  • Right pacing of the race from start to finish
  • Ideal racing distances they should go for 

Although, in theory, this mathematical model can work to the jockey’s advantage, the veterans of this field are still skeptical about its chances of success. It is because of the following reasons that have not been considered in the mathematical model:

  • Horses vary in size and aerobic capacity. 
  • Horse behavior before and during the race has not been considered.
  • The horse might give up when some other horse race passes it. 
  • The jockey’s rapport with his horse. 

 To maximize the racing potential of an individual horse, the jockey and the trainer have to come up with suitable race events for participation. Hence, detailed information about the horse, such as speed and endurance, should be coupled with simulations to create a horse profile and determine its racing capabilities. 

Finally, a question arises: Will these modeling methods spoil the natural scheme of things in horse racing that has been going on for centuries? For most people, horse racing is exciting due to its uncertainty, and changing the way it works might as well jeopardize it.  

Reference Link:

  1. https://www.science.org/news/2020/12/best-way-win-horse-race-mathematicians-may-have-answer
  2. https://science.slashdot.org/story/20/12/06/0139246/the-best-way-to-win-a-horse-race-mathematicians-may-have-the-answer
  3. https://eminetra.co.za/the-best-way-to-win-a-horse-race-mathematicians-may-have-the-answer/103928/
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