How Do You Pick a Winning Pup?

Posted: 4th January 2016

A couple of nights ago, on the last night of our New Year’s trip to Galway, Ireland, we went to the Galway Greyhound Stadium for a night of racing. I’m hardly the biggest gambler, placing just €1 bet on each of 11 races but it was just for giggles and I didn’t mind losing. I didn’t really know how it worked anyway.

Galway Greyhound Stadium

We got a programme on arrival and each race was listed in the format of the image below. I took one brief look at the complex information given, and declared that I had no idea what it all meant and that I was instead opting for the “name I like best” method. 11 races with 6 dogs in each, random guesses should get me one or two wins.

Greyhound race programme

Watching the Greyhounds coming out of the start gates reminded me of all the gate start drills I used to do as a track cyclist. The Greyhound race distances were either 320 or 480m, super short bursts. I noted they typically cover 480m in 29-31s. My 500m best on a bike from a standing start was 35.5s – having seen the blistering speed the dogs go I’m feeling quite impressed with myself right now!

Anyway, back to the betting. Blinded by the sheer amount of information I had about the dogs and their recent performances, I found myself creating mental shortcuts to help me choose. Faced with making selections under uncertainty, with an overwhelming amount of rational data, that’s typically what people do. We create small rules-of-thumb that simplify the situation and allow us to make comparisons using a simpler question.

For the first race I asked Twitter to choose one for me, posting the picture of the Race 1 programme page.

Silence.

Was it possible that the people who saw it weren’t interested, didn’t want the responsibility of choosing a dog that didn’t win, or were they also baffled by the sheer amount of information on the page? I tried a simpler tactic a couple of races later, and just listed the names in a tweet and asked people to choose. This time I got a bunch of eager answers, though I didn’t win that one either. Twitter folk, you suck at choosing winning dogs!

Asking Twitter... Asking Twitter again...

On one race I changed my mind at the very last second because I saw the dogs parading past. I was going to bet on the dog with the name I liked the most, number 2, but I saw dog number 3 looking calm and “ready” (don’t ask) and impulsively went for number 3 instead. Number 2 won, and number 3 rolled in at the back. I misread calm for a bit casual. He obviously didn’t want to catch the bunny this time. I should have stuck with my original choice.

I found I was influenced by the short statement on the recent form of each dog. Written by the organisers, I assumed this was at least an educated opinion, if not an expert one. Also I paid attention to the finishing position of their last race. However, with no racing over the Christmas and New Year period, the most recently some of the dogs had raced was the 17th December. I imagine form can change a lot in 2 weeks.

In the end I chose two winners out of 11 races, both using the “best name” method. It’s not exactly a large sample size but for me, on that evening, a far more effective approach than trying to predict the outcome based on intelligence.

Watching greyhounds is really impressive. They are perfectly bred for speed and agility and their pace is breathtaking. I’m not sure they know they are racing, but they clearly really want to catch the bunny (the “hare”), the flapping pace-bait on rails they chase. At the end of each race they huddle round the unit the bunny disappears into while their owners/trainers clip leads on them. I wonder what it is like to chase something your whole career and never be allowed to actually catch it. You think they would have worked that one out by now!

So, looking back at the sheet above with the details of the first race. I know who won of course, but see if you can correctly guess. And let me know which method you employed to choose.

 

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