In the takeover of the digital age, the world in which we live has changed drastically. By using social media, family members that are continents apart can share events with such clarity and speed that they may as well be in the same place. Anything from health insurance to living room sofas can be purchased with a click of a button without ever leaving the comfort of home.
Digitization is apparent no matter where one looks.
However, though this digital age is plain to see at surface level, the powerhouse behind it is a bit more complex. This force, called big data, has significantly altered how the world works. With big data, all information is quantified. Algorithms are used to make predictions and calculations about anything ranging from potential disease outbreaks to the prices of airline tickets. This entity gives people the ability to translate phenomena into correlations and connections that are useful in making future decisions and purchases. The horse racing industry is no exception to this. With its allure of big money and fame, it has also taken up big data in hopes of being able to more accurately predict racehorse breakdowns before they occur.
“If you follow Thoroughbred horse racing (and even if you don’t) then you probably know that the chronic issue of racehorses breaking down and being euthanized is a serious problem” (Needham). In fact, “a state-by-state survey by The Times shows that about 3,600 horses died racing or training at state-regulated tracks over the last three years.
” (Bogdanich). Though breakdowns have been happening ever since racing began, the industry has been facing more serious pressures to up the safety of the sport, for horse and jockey alike. Predicting a potential breakdown has always been something attempted by using veterinary records and drawing conclusions based on how the individual horse moves.
However, due to the young age of these still-growing horses, trustworthy deductions were difficult to make. Luckily, as the world moves towards using big data, there are higher hopes for preserving the safety of these racers. As it stands, an impressive amount of data is available regarding each horse’s past performances. It is now becoming readily possible to quantify this data and turn it into a sort of algorithm to predict an individual horse’s chances of becoming unsound. This will give the industry a better idea of how to prevent breakdowns, even though unavoidable accidents cannot be ruled out completely.
This revised system would start by analyzing the statistics of the horses who have broken down. Data such as pedigree, class movement, workout schedules, and track type and conditions would be placed in an algorithm to predict any correlation between the variables. For each horse, these data values and statistics are available online through the Jockey Club. “This data has long been valuable”, but “until recently, there were no easy ways to collect, store, and analyze such data, which severely limited the opportunities to extract its potential value” (Mayer-Schönberger 100). However, the use of an algorithm would make this data much more readable, with a definite idea of the possibility of a breakdown rather than being organized into a collection of vague elements. Once the algorithm is deemed efficient enough and an adequate amount of examples have been pulled together, new rule sets will go into place for the racing community. Algorithmically, if the horse is deemed ‘at risk’, it will become mandatory to undergo a specialized veterinary check before it is allowed to race. Highly rigorous attempts to check for soundness, such as x-rays and ultrasounds will take place in this stage. This is because injuries in horses at such young age are crucial in their overall development. “Strained tendons or hairline fractures can be tough for veterinarians to diagnose, and the damage may go from minor to irreversible at the next race or workout” (The Horseracing).
Because of this, the emphasis would be placed on preventing the ailment before it occurs with the help of big data as well as veterinarians. This inclusion of a professional opinion will not only ensure a more individual look at the animal but will work to prevent false positives from occurring in the algorithm and diminishing its value of prediction for other horses. If the horse is given the “okay” by a veterinarian after this thorough examination, only then they will be allowed on the track.
However, the question remains: Whose job is it to put big data to work and ensure these new rule sets take place? “The Jockey Club is the obvious answer”, as they “have the required data and the influence to acquire more data, and they have the resources” (Needham). According to The Jockey Club president, James L. Gagliano, “We put [statistics] into a database, and we provide tools back to the racetracks where they can analyze and slice and dice the information themselves” (Bognadich). Because of this, the information used in such an algorithm is already available to the public online, so there should be no privacy debates about the Jockey Club using it to make predictions. However, a potential problem that may come out of this is owners becoming angry if the algorithm deems their horse unsound. Considering veterinary evaluations (especially those that require in-depth testing) are quite expensive, the owners may have a problem with enduring them for the sake of pleasing big data. However, the sanctity of the horse needs to be placed in higher regard for these incidences. Interpreting race data to prevent breakdowns has been attempted in the past, but big data would give the best look at whether or not one is likely to occur. Considering lives are on the line, the best source for giving a qualitative answer should be used (in this case, an algorithm), regardless of the monetary implications it may have on those who partake in the sport.
Big data, of course, is not the end-all solution to racehorse breakdowns, and cannot be depended on entirely for preventing these occurrences. It may prove difficult to convince owners, betters, and fans of the sport to rely on an algorithm as the primary source of such vital information. However, coupling big data and veterinary intervention, may be the best attempt yet at preserving the livelihood of horses on the track. Not to mention, big data can be used cheaply and efficiently. “Unlike material things – the food we eat, a candle that burns – data’s value does not diminish when it is used; it can be processed again and again”( Mayer-Schönberger 101). This means these algorithms can be used in infinite combinations with infinite subjects, but will never lose integrity or value. The algorithms can only grow larger, more inclusive, and more accurate with the amount of new data constantly being cycled into it.
As the world grows larger and seemingly more chaotic, big data becomes more of a necessity, as it brings order. Big data can be used in just about every scenario, giving people a myriad of correlations, ideas, and explanations never seen or thought of before. Whether that be Amazon= depicting what item a customer is most likely to be interested in, or hospitals using big data to decide which newborn babies are most likely to become sick, big data has its place in just about every setting imaginable. This tool, however, is only useful in finding the ‘what’ of the situation, but not the ‘why’. For example, big data can tell researchers there is a correlation between women purchasing unscented lotion and being in the earliest stages of pregnancy. This correlation gives what is happening, but leaves people with no explanation as to why this relationship has occurred. However, it may not be so important to know the reasoning behind why things are happening so long as the world knows and can predict what can occur. If doctors can use big data to treat and save the life of a baby who is about to become sick, does it matter so much why the baby is about to be sick?
Although it is already massively affecting the world, big data only will grow stronger in time. With informathe tion in the world growing at an exponential rate, people need something to turn to in hopes of making sense of such a dump of data.
Big data, even with its complications, is incredible at deciphering raw data and turning it into a feasible idea of how the world works. It has helped immeasurable amounts of people and industries live and work easier. Because of this, it will hopefully aid in the accurate prediction of racehorse breakdowns and be able to play role in stopping them before they ever have the chance to occur.