1 September 2011

Evolution And Horse Racing

I've done a bit of reading on the evolution of horses lately. Really interesting topic. They share common ancestry with the zebra (branched off around 4 million years ago). Prior to that they share common ancestry with rhinos and tapirs. It is sort of like humans who share common ancestry with chimps around 7 million years ago, and monkeys around 25 million years ago. Of course, if you go back far enough all animals on this planet share common ancestry (humans and horses share a common ancestor around 65 million years ago.

Another interesting thing, horses evolved from having 3 toes in the front and four toes in the back to their current characteristic of have just one toe. The most probable reason for the change has to do with horses being pray animals. They eat grass, not other animals, so the ancestors who survived eventually needed speed to run away from predators, and balance in the plains, for example and having multi toes slowed them down.

Another cool yet disturbing reality is that horses made it to North America 2.5 million years ago, but they went extinct around 8,000 years ago. The most likely culprit for their extinction was a combination of a change in climate and man's arrival to North America.

It was around the end of the last Ice Age. The ancestors of the North American Indian came to North America via the Bering Straight which had a frozen land bridge and may have been preceded by the Clovis People who likely came from a region in what is now France (not the Coneheads). They came across the Atlantic, most likely on small watercraft, as the Atlantic was full of icebergs to rest on. This is still a controversial hypothesis (not a scientific theory based on mounds and mounds of evidence like evolution), there is also a thought the Clovis came to North America via the Bering Straight as well.

There is evidence though that the Clovis dined on horse meat amongst other animals like the mastodon. The Native Indians most likely feasted on horses as well (it was the end of the Ice Age, and there is no evidence that the horse was used as transportation back then). The Clovis too were mostly wiped and the rest absorbed in the Indian cultures. There is even a hypothesis that a comet may have been responsible for a massive extinction of mammals in North America around 12,000 years ago.

The bottom line here is that there are some facts thanks to scientific observation and analysis of evidence: evolution of horses, horses dating back to North America dating around 2.5 million years ago, and the extinction of horses around 7,000 or 8,000 years ago (horses were reintroduced to North America by the Spanish around the 1500's, and many horses escaped, and this time around weren't hunted to extinction, but used as transportation by the Native Indians). The speculation comes in when it comes to things like man's hand in the extinction event, when man made it to North America exactly, and how, etc.

Future discoveries will eventually settle just about every question posed here.

So what does this have to do with horse racing?

Scientific inquiry is a wonderful thing. It is very efficient as well in determining how the universe works and how it got to this point. Hypothesizes are made (they are generally educated guesses), if over time they aren't falsified (by contrary evidence), they are accepted as scientific theory. For example, it is a fact that evolution takes place, the theory lies in how exactly it occurs in specific cases.

Horse racing seems to dismiss the scientific process, in other words, it continually flies by the seat of its pants.

For example, take the Lasix controversy. Lasix has been used for three decades, yet there are no answers that are close being conclusive regarding masking and whether it is needed as a staple. Why? There has hardly been any research done. The best we can do is make inferences at this time, and unfortunately, the inferences turn out to be very subjective (which is the polar opposite of how science works).

This is exactly why super trainers exist. At least they are exploring science as they find ways to make concoctions that are not tested for.

What racing needs to do is play catch up. Hand out heavy heavy fines, and list only a handful of drugs that are acceptable, while doing testing on whether these drugs should be acceptable in the future. The science exists to figure this stuff out.

And what about the pricing of the game (the takeout)? There has been absolutely no attempt to search for the optimal takeout. Strong evidence exists regarding takeout being too high. Though at this time, thanks to horse racing's dysfunctional ways, empirical evidence is impossible to find (for example, all racetracks would need to start off by dropping all takeout rates so that we can see actual results, which of course will still be clouded by the economy and field size as well). However it is doable. Casinos have done it, to the point that they know exactly when to tweak a house hold when it comes to their slot machines.

Empirical evidence shows that handles are dropping, amount of players are also dropping. The one thing that hasn't been dropping, in fact, going up, is collective track takeout (supers and other exotics with the higher rates are now available in just about every race and have attracted a higher percentage of total pool money).

Now if racing was thinking with a scientific mindset, they would tweak the thing they have control of, the takeout, and they should be doing it in a desperate manner as well. By the looks of it, revenues from alternative gaming will eventually start to decline and may go away altogether. A good scientist, doesn't just think of the past and present either, they think of the future.

But the horse racing industry doesn't seem that interested in researching evidence, or acting on evidence. Maybe part of the problem is that the center of the horse racing is Kentucky, the home of the Creationist Museum, a place where scientific evidence is an invention of the Devil.

Handicappers, on the other hand, look like Einsteins compared to the rest of the industry, as most everyday player uses a very scientific approach to picking winners.

If horse racing took a more scientific approach to both drugs and pricing, the game would be growing in leaps and bounds. It is after all a great game. The controversy is in regard to how it is managed.

Like with those who deny evolution, there seems to be a willful ignorance (see California for example) that plagues horses and not only is it standing in the way of progress, but it is actually causing a regression today.

BTW, please no comments about how evolution is hooey. There is no controversy amongst scientists. And if you are an anti-evolutionist or someone who believes the earth is less than 10,000 years old, no need to tell me about it, but if you want to really know what science knows, have a look at Potholer54's Made Easy Series. It is a wonderful educational tool.


Rick Perry said...

i like ur blog but when u say "it is a fact evolution takes place", u go to far.

Cangamble said...

Thanks Rick. You might have a hard time getting elected with that attitude though.

Watch Potholer's videos.