Monday, October 7, 2013

Interview With "CJ" From TimeformUS

This article originally appeared in September's Horseplayer Monthly magazine.  To read that issue, or get the recently released October issue, chalk filled with handicapping articles and stats, please click here. It is 100% free.

Craig Milkowski is the head figure maker for TimeformUS, the recently released past performance product partnered with TVG and Betfair.  Craig has a long history in the space through his published figures at and we thought we’d sit down and ask him about the fine art and science of figure making, and handicapping in general.

Q: How long have you been making figures and would you describe it a continual work in progress, i.e. you are always learning something new, or are you completely comfortable in where you are at as a figure maker?

A:  I’ve been making figures since the early 80s, so about 30 years.  For better or worse, I’m always trying to learn something new.  I am comfortable with the figures I make, but I always think they can evolve into something better.

Q: Your performance figures and pace figures at always had a great reputation for predictive value and ROI. Are the TimeformUS figures similar to your previously published performance figures, or have you changed them in any way?

A:  I think they are actually better.  I now have a team to work with and the capability to study the figures, both strengths and weaknesses.  We will build on the strengths and work on the weaknesses.

Q: TimeformUS figs use pace to help construct them. Can you talk a little bit about this? Is this why sometimes we

see a horse who beat another horse have a lower TimeformUS figure than the runner up in the same race?

 A:  Our figures are still largely based on final time, but we    use what we like to call “pace infusion”.  We like to show how the pace part of the trip might have influenced final time.  A frontrunner dueling through a fast pace will get some extra credit, while one on the lead in a slow paced route will not, and perhaps even get a slight penalty.  Another example is that closers on turf can get some extra credit in turf routes when the pace is slow--as long as they are actually passing horses.  All of the infusion is based on surface, distance, and the pace of the race in relation to final time.

Q: For past users of your program, your pace figures were published, and were quite good at deciphering a pace scenario and race contentiousness. Are there plans to publish those pace figures at Timeform? Does the “Pace Projector” currently reflect these pace figures?

 A:  The pace figures for both the races and each horse will be available in the Deluxe version of the past performances, which are coming soon.  The TimeformUS Pace Projector reflects a rating from the old program, the overall early speed rating.  It looks at the last five races each horse has run, both the speed they displayed and the position they held, and formulates one number.  The adjusted fractions that are available in the regular PPs also show the speed each horse displayed.

Q: How do you create your “Spotlight Figures?”

A:  Spotlight Figs are based on the Speed Figures and look for the race in each horse’s last three that most closely matches today’s surface/distance combination.

Q: Come the Breeders Cup, should we see many European invaders, one may think there may be an edge for players because the TimeformUS figs should match up with the Timeform UK figures, being made on the same scale.

Through your data mining and due diligence with both, are

you comfortable with the US versus European Timeform figures in terms of head to head match ups?

A:  I am very comfortable using the figures of European invaders in comparison to ours.  We’ve seen plenty of examples on a smaller scale already.  Timeform is very protective of their brand, and they are comfortable with the numbers.  Their numbers are made using different methods, but we think they accomplish the same goal--measuring race performance accurately--and they can be used for comparison.

Q:  Clearly a good speed figure has great predictive value, with an ROI boost when compared to betting a favorite or a top final time at today’s distance and surface. However, as with anything we do as handicappers, there is more to the story – we need to find ROI. Can you take us through your selection process while using a top TimeformUS Fig, and how you may try to up your ROI on a top figure selection?

A:  I personally am not a “bet the top fig” kind of guy.  I am more of a pattern guy, looking for horses improving and declining in form.  When I make figures, I don’t concentrate on gearing them towards just a healthy ROI.  I could probably approach break even or better if that was the goal, but the win percentage would decline at the same time.  The goal of our figures is to tell the handicapper how fast a horse ran each time he stepped on the track, and for the handicapper to use that information to find good bets.

There are lots more tools available to our customers than just the figures.  There are some innovative trainer and breeding ratings, lifetime PPs, and so much more. I bet I haven't even found everything myself!

Q: A great many handicappers and fans have lamented the lack of true talent at a distance nowadays. In your experience have horses gotten slower at 9 furlongs or more the last decade? Have there been any major changes in speed that you’ve seen in talent levels as foal crops get smaller, or as (is rumored) track superintendents try and make a safer surface, which might involve slowing the horses down? As well, with so few races on a given day at 9 furlongs or more, how tough is it to be confident of your final figure in those races in the first place? Easier or harder than years ago?

A:  One goal of speed figures is to be able to equate performances at different distances.  I think some other prominent figures I have seen have lost touch with that goal.  I monitor how fast the best horses (G1, older males and females) run all the distances under G1 conditions.  So, if horses are getting slower, I adjust the scale to bring them back in line.   I do the same thing on different surfaces.  To answer your questions, since I have made adjustments to
longer races, the horses are actually getting slower at longer distances in my opinion.

Q: Varying runup distances/times and less than stellar timing in general have been a concern for HANA and its members for a long while. How do you feel about the current state of timing in Thoroughbred racing and what can be done to improve it, in your opinion?

A:  The mistiming of races is a lot more prevalent than people realize.  Timing is better at some tracks than others.  There are also plenty of times where the timer works, but the data is entered improperly into the system and winds up incorrect in the PPs.  There are two things racing should do that would eliminate nearly all timing errors.  The first one is to move to Trakus type timing systems.  The technology in use today is woefully out of date and prone to errors.  The second thing is to just get rid of run up.  It is a terrible idea in racing, one that no other place I’m aware of is using   There is no reason not to give the exact distance of a race and the time it takes to run from gate to wire. I could write a 10 page report on the pitfalls of run up, so I’ll stop now.  Look for something on our blog in the future.

Q: What does the future hold at TimeformUS? Are you working on anything you can share?

A:  One thing I can promise is TimeformUS will not become complacent.  We are embracing modern technology and using it to our advantage.  As mentioned earlier, full pace figures are coming soon, as are additions to comments on days when front runners either dominated or struggled.  We aren’t going to get into declaring biases, but the info will be there for people wanting to dig deeper.  There is a lot more to come, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.

Q: Not forgetting your loyal customer base at Pacefigures, especially since many of them are HANA members, what kind of feedback have you gotten from them now that you are at TimeformUS? Do you find they are comfortable with the switch and have they been supportive?

A:   All of my customers have been very supportive of the move.  That said, there are some reservations and some things people are used to having that they don’t have now.  Many have been involved as beta testers for some time and had some input before launch.  We do listen to ALL customer feedback while at the same time keeping our goals in mind…making playing the races modernized, faster, and more fun.

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