Can An App Tell You A Horse’s Optimal Running Style? Study Suggests It’s Possible

A recent study has left researchers with data that could change the way racehorses are trained all around the world. According to Science Magazine, authors of a new study believe that their approach could be used to identify customized pacing plans that could optimize individual horses’ chances of winning.

Dr. Amandine Aftalion, a mathematician at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris, has been analyzing the performance of world champion runners since 2013. Together with colleague Quentin Mercier she recently decided to try to apply her research methods to racehorses through the use of a new GPS tracking tool embedded in French racing saddles. These GPS trackers are typically used for fans, but ended up giving Aftalion and Mercier access to valuable speed and position data during races at the Chantilly racetracks north of Paris.

Aftalion and Mercier were able to use the GPS tracking technology to quantify the success of running styles from dozens of races at Chantilly to see if one racing style was more effective than others. Afterwards the two researchers were able to develop a model for different winning strategies for three specific race distances – 1,300 meters, 1,900 meters, and 2,100 meters. Aftalion and Mercier came to the conclusion that the most success came from a quick start followed by a more relaxed speed until the closing kick. Different cruising or closing speeds have different aerobic requirements of a horse, which could explain why one style is easier for one individual going a particular distance. In theory, this model could allow trainers to plug in certain information about their horses to get custom racing strategies that best fit that horse’s aerobic capabilities.

At first glance, this seems like a great expansion of technology into a very traditional part of the sport. However, Dr. Peter Knight, a veterinarian at the University of Sydney, pointed out that trainers may be slow to adopt such a statistical model, as these models can not account for every horse’s unique behavior. At the end of the day, horses are still living animals with a mind of their own that can be rather unpredictable sometimes. These results could also vary amongst different countries the same way typical racing styles do.

“We can’t truly model performance,” Knight said to Science Magazine’s Christa Lesté-Lasserre. “But perhaps the fundamental question is: Do we really want to? For people who love horse racing, the uncertainty provides the excitement, and the actual running of the horses provides the spectacle and the beauty.”


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