Campbell: What’s in a name? Study finds punters unduly influenced by horse namesNews
This comment was originally posted on HorseRacing.net on June 21 and is reproduced here with permission.
America’s handicappers are in a highly speculative business. It’s not quite the lumber market lately, but… For some it is somewhere between the wildcatting in West Texas and the KL Tower base jump in Malaysia, figuratively speaking.
When it comes to “horsemen,” they combine a strange concoction of superstition with a precedent from the past. We would like to think that they are scientists more than tarot card readers. Some are on the phone, walking slowly; either by handing out tips or by listening attentively to a supposed qualified source. When the anonymous deliver, they are instantly known to all, famous soothsayers. Think town crier. When not, think about actions in the square.
The culture of racetracks is full of authentic and original “savages” who are waiting for you to ask them the “Question”. This question being “Who do you love?” “
The betting methods are endlessly fascinating. Participants devour the Form in all kinds of ways. Some wait until the start of the race to watch it, while others prepare days in advance, hoping to unearth some numerical or meaningful sign that their selections may lead to cash-outs. Everyone who participates in a bet is given a permanent record, in hard copy or digitally, of an opinion that they believed at one point to be correct.
At different times of the year, occasional horse riders arrive as tourists. Wearing their shiny white tennis shoes, cameras around their necks ready, and holding their trifold cards like in one of those Chevy Chase chains Vacation cinema. They hope to “crush the idiots”. If they win, the exuberance is a tidal wave, but if they lose, they might not come back, at least until next year. More professional track enthusiasts know better and can temper both wins and losses.
During my own experience in different betting circles, I have often wondered how much horse names can influence the broad spectrum of those who place bets. Are they really as good as they think they are, these newbies to veterans, at fixing this problem? Could they be unduly influenced by something as arbitrary as it appears to be?
A recent article in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics entitled, “Sonic Thunder vs. Brian the Snail: Are People Affected by Uninformative Racehorse Names?Probed some of these questions. In other words, turning to those examining behavioral economics might provide some intriguing answers.
In this particular study, a triad of academics from the Department of Business Administration at the University of Zurich (Oliver Merz, Raphael Flepp and Egon Franck) wanted to delve into the world of “effects”. This is how decision making and market efficiency play out in the horse racing world. Our sport, they tell us, is particularly interesting because data is readily available to measure things like investment, choice, and outcome.
They discovered some fascinating facts about the habits of mind when it comes to choosing horses. According to them, betting decisions are affected by uninformative racehorse names. They screened over 400,000 competitions between the ten-year period 2008-2018, developing a long list of Oxford Dictionary words to cover anything related to the word “fast.”
What they pulled from countries around the world (including the United States) is that when a “fast-sounding” horse was entered in a given race, the probability of it winning was “overestimated” . To put it another way, the returns, the ability to cash a ticket, were actually lower than those from betting on others.
Wait, what, you say? Has a horse with the name “speed” been too bet compared to a horse with “slow”?
Correct. With all the collective knowledge available in equestrian sport, and with all the so-called professional “opinions” that exist, something so trivial could have a major impact on the betting market. I find it both disturbing and captivating.
Of course, betting on a horse always has elements where punters do not have all the knowledge at their disposal to do this could be called an “informed bet”. But choosing a horse by name alone, I would say, is universally scorned by those who consider themselves “in the know”. Ask one of the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) players in Las Vegas when they attend the tournament there, if they make their selections based on names, and you’ll likely get wry smiles with legions of heads. trembling. It is simply not done, they will say.
However, we are talking about the depths of the human mind here, aren’t we? It has twists and turns, cracks like a maze. As Freud and Jung started telling us in German over 100 years ago, the subconscious is a tricky business.
That’s why we need departments in colleges and universities that look at topics like behavioral economics. He can follow investigative leads, cross-pollinate, and uncover truths we might not have thought existed. At the end of the article, the authors make some fairly general suggestions about society as a whole and whether this type of “effect” is occurring on a larger scale. They are on to something. Possesses horses race once again provided the world with a window into the actions of a much larger audience? Perhaps.
What we do know is that track culture has a behavioral niche that’s interwoven with its own portfolio. Much like buying on Amazon on Prime Day or buying a stock on Robinhood, these decisions about why we do what we do greatly reflect who we are as individuals and as a collective, “people”. . We might not want to admit it, but sometimes those choices turn out to be quite ill-informed.
The next time you go to the racetrack investigating the PDs for a race at, say, Belmont, watch out for those “speed” horses. As for these names, your mind might lead you down the wrong path. This is going double for you, wildcatters. Knowledge in this case is not as apparent as it seems.
JN Campbell is a Houston-based turfwriter.
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