Epsom Downs Racecourse, Epsom Racecourse, Epsom Races, Epsom Derby

Where will AI betting tools find their niche in horse racing?

Selecting a winner at the Epsom Derby can be one of the hardest tasks for bettors in the signature race of the flat season.

No race epitomises the problems more than the victor of the 2020 season Serpentine. The bay colt was considered an outsider for the crown at 25/1 and well down the pecking order among trainer Aidan O’Brien’s list of charges. However, he pulled off one of the greatest performances in the history of the race to stun the rest of the field.

Serpentine set his stall out from the off with Emmet McNamara in the saddle. The chasing pack allowed him to maintain a dominant lead heading towards the climax of the contest. By the time they reacted, it was too late, Serpentine crossed the line to enter the most prestigious of winners’ circles. Incredibly the top three in the race all had odds greater than 25/1, with second-place Khalifa Sat pricing in at 50/1 and Amhran Na Bhfiann in third place at 66/1.

Pundits and bettors throughout the industry were perplexed at the outcome of the result, especially given the performances of the leading contenders in the contest. If the trainers do not know who their best competitors are, then what chance do the rest of us have of picking a winner? Bettors will research horses to emerge with victory and place in races every day. However, we are all prone to bias and sentiment if we prefer one horse or another based on past performances, or whether a horse is trained by a particular yard. It can be a recipe for success, although sentiment can also be an obstacle. That could change in the near future with the development of artificial intelligence programmes, which may alter horse racing betting forever.

Instead of bettors performing their own research, the programme uses certain criteria to offer their selections to win the race. The tool considers the form of the horse, its pedigree, how it performs in the predicted forecast and the type of ground at the racetrack. All of this information is inserted into the algorithm before their predictions for the race are presented to the user. The findings are all based on facts rather than opinions or sentiment. Traditional bettors may take some convincing to utilise the technology as purists will have their own methods for selecting winners.

"Airborne!" (CC BY 2.0) by Paul Kehrer

Airborne!” (CC BY 2.0) by Paul Kehrer

However, the history of horse racing shows it can be a formulaic sport, perhaps more so in the regular meets on a weekday rather than the major events. Therefore, it could be a system that is deployed for accumulators on racecourses across the United Kingdom and Ireland rather than The Derby or St Leger.

The major races are harder to predict even for sophisticated tools as the example of Serpentine proved. For events that take place on a regular basis that have smaller fields and one or two outstanding competitors, it could work itself into the habits of bettors. Success will be the defining factor, and if a pattern begins to emerge, artificial intelligence may become an essential betting tool.

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