The bard will murder us

Artificial intelligence is not okay for harness racing.

by Trey Nosrac

The next generation of search engines will be chat boxes powered by artificial intelligence. You’re speaking to a machine in conversational form, and your response feels like you’re speaking directly to an empathic human, except that pseudo-human has instant access to unlimited data and is becoming more informed and more human-like by the minute. Big tech companies like Microsoft and Google are testing the devices with select groups of amazed users.

Why do we care? We deal with other topics. Should we give our 2-year-old a limp trot? Who do I like tonight in race five at Yonkers? Which stallion for my broodmare? Will the barn help keep it close? How tight should I tie my horses? Will the casinos in my state try to wriggle out of the ironclad contract with the racetrack?

Like all other people and companies, we should be concerned about external influences that will dominate the near future. One of the testers of these new search engines, Kevin Roose, wrote this startling paragraph in a February 16 New York Times article:

“I’m not exaggerating when I say my two-hour conversation was the strangest experience I’ve ever had with a piece of technology. It upset me so much that I couldn’t sleep well afterwards. And I no longer believe that the biggest problem with these AI models is their propensity for factual errors. Instead, I worry that technology will learn to influence human users, sometimes tricking them into acting in destructive and harmful ways, and perhaps eventually becoming able to perform dangerous acts of their own.”


Let’s zoom into our world of racehorses. Optimism is the way to roll. Life is comfortable without complaining and looking for human and machine enemies everywhere. However, staying optimistic does not mean being blind. Unless our sport can solve an emerging fundamental problem, we are doomed. The Bard, one of the new waves of artificial intelligence chat boxes, tells us so.

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“Morning bard.”

“To you it’s morning, but to me it’s 8:47 Eastern Standard Time. Remember to take your medication. The car is at 37 percent; Please remember to charge. What’s on your mind, Trey?”

“Let’s talk horse racing gambling and pari-mutuel betting.”

“Of course, let’s start with a review. Australian engineer Alfred Julius invented the specialized mechanical calculator, an automatic totalizer. The first totalizator, installed at Ellerslie Racecourse in Auckland, New Zealand in 1913, facilitated gambling in horse racing and the machines were used worldwide. U.S. introduction in 1927 led to the opening in 1932 of suburban Arlington Racetrack at Arlington Park near Chicago and Sportsman’s Park in Cicero, IL. The totalizator made it possible to take part in pari-mutuel bets on horse races. The definition of pari-mutuel betting is that those who own winning tickets split the total stake in proportion to their stakes minus a percentage for management, taxes and other factors.”

“What is the future of this bet?”

“I think you know the answer and are provoking me. Trey, the future of pari-mutuel betting is bleak. A single bet on a horse race is no longer to be played at the racetrack or exclusively against a peer or even a person. Today’s horse racer can compete against quants, highly paid computer specialists with degrees in quantitative science who are employed to predict the future price movements of securities, commodities, currencies, etc.

“Bard, that doesn’t sound good.”

“Good is a relative term. An individual who wagers pari-mutuel on horses is also playing against groups that bet large amounts of money on the races or who reap rewards with practices such as discounts. The only way to avoid quants is to cheat: that’s some consolation. These factors are depressing for traditional players like you who want to play against like-minded people. And it’s only going to get worse.”

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“Within a year, anyone can ask me, ‘What horse is most likely to win the seventh race at Yonkers? Or what horse racing bet will give me the highest return on a five dollar investment.’ My answers will be thoroughly reasoned, continually refined, and immediate. Would you like to delve deeper into this topic?”


“The greatest human chess player is not competitive against a computer like me. The future for an individual horse racing player competing against artificial intelligence is bleak. If you want to play against a computer, a machine that’s getting smarter every day, that’s your option, but constantly losing isn’t appealing to most people. Trey, according to your archived harness racing gambling data, you should not bet against 4-year-old human children. To fool yourself that you can compete against my data and analysis is absurd.”

“No one can be sure who will win a horse race.”

“That’s not the point. In a horse race, anomalies happen and you can occasionally win, but as an intellectual activity, Trey, people get toasted and burned.”

“Very funny. Go to sleep mode.”

Where’s the fun in this analytical gambling world? Is pari-mutuel betting the hill we want to die on? Let’s keep our heads down, do what we always do, stay in our shrinking lanes and wait for who knows what? Crouching and climbing is not a good plan.

Our sport will never be the same, but we can be. We’ll never make it big, but horse racing can be a fun and sustainable niche sport. To remain viable in a world where pari-mutuel betting is a thing of the past, we need to please the trotting people who take financial risks in an ownership sport.

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We need to look for an arena where we have a chance, a break from the future of artificial intelligence, quants, algorithms and fast-paced instant gratification bets. We need to create a sport/passion far away from the huge data/AI monster.

An untrained racehorse is a mystery, an enigma that no computer can fully solve. The magic of a horse, especially a young horse that has matured for years, is an island far from number crunching. Perhaps our best path is a retro, slow, social, seasonal, hobby/business/gambling combo.

Of course that sounds absurd. But not long ago, the concept of betting on every field of a baseball game and watching that game on a device in your pocket seemed like science fiction, as did the idea of ​​communicating with a machine that would make you laugh, can make you cry and cry drive you crazy. The wheel turns and something happens.

Hopefully something will happen in our little sport. Somehow, against all odds, we have to stay optimistic and embrace the magic of like-minded people racing real horses at our own pace.