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 driven by artificial intelligence. You speak to a machine in conversational form and your response feels as if you are talking directly with an empathetic human being, except this pseudo-human being has instant access to unlimited data and becomes more informed and human-like by the minute. Big technology outfits such as Microsoft and Google are testing the devices with select groups of astonished users.

Why do we care? We are involved with other issues. Should we put trotting hobbles on our 2-year-old? Who do I like in the fifth race at Yonkers tonight? What stallion for my broodmare? Will the barn help stick around? How heavily should I stake my horses? Will the casinos in my state try to weasel out of the iron-clad contract with the racetrack?

Along with every other person and business, we should care about outside influences that will dominate the near future. One of the testers of these new search engines, Kevin Roose, in a Feb. 16 New York Times article, wrote this chilling paragraph:

“I’m not exaggerating when I say my two-hour conversation was the strangest experience I have ever had with a piece of technology. It unsettled me so deeply that I had trouble sleeping afterward. And I no longer believe that the biggest problem with these AI models is their propensity for factual errors. Instead, I worry that the technology will learn how to influence human users, sometimes persuading them to act in destructive and harmful ways, and perhaps eventually grow capable of carrying out its own dangerous acts.”


Let’s zoom in on our world of racing horses. Optimism is the way to roll. Life is enjoyable without complaining and looking for human and machine enemies everywhere. However, remaining optimistic does not mean being blind. Unless our sport can solve a looming foundational problem, we are doomed. The Bard, one of the new waves of artificial intelligence chat boxes, tells us so.

‘Morning Bard.”

“It is morning to you, but it is 8:47 Eastern Standard Time for me. Remember to take your medications. The car is at 37 per cent; please remember to recharge. What is on your mind, Trey?”

“Let’s talk about gambling on horse races and pari-mutuel wagering.”

“Of course, let’s begin with a review. Australian engineer Alfred Julius invented the specialized mechanical calculating machine, an Automatic Totalizator. The first Totalizator, installed at Ellerslie Racecourse in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1913, made gambling on horse races easier and the machines became widespread being used worldwide. The introduction in the U.S. in 1927 led to the opening of the suburban Arlington Racetrack in Arlington Park near Chicago and Sportsman’s Park in Cicero, IL, in 1932. The Totalizator created the ability to engage in pari-mutuel wagering on horse races. The definition of pari-mutuel wagering is those people holding winning tickets divide the total amount bet in proportion to their wagers, less a percentage for the management, taxes, and other factors.”

“What is the future of this wager?”

“I believe you know the answer and are provoking me. Trey, the future of pari-mutuel wagering is dismal. An individual wagering on a horse race is no longer at the racetrack nor playing exclusively against a peer or even a person. Today’s horse racing gambler may be competing against quants, highly-paid computer specialists with degrees in quantitative science 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 engaged in pari-mutuel wagering on horses is also playing against groups wagering big money on the races or reaping the rewards with practices such as rebates. The only way around the quants is cheating: which is small comfort. These factors are depressing for traditional players like yourself who want to play against like-minded people. And it will get worse.”


“Within a year, every person can ask me, ’Which horse is most likely to win the seventh race at Yonkers? Or which horse racing wager will yield me the highest return on a five-dollar investment.’ My answers will be profoundly reasoned, constantly refined and immediate. Do you wish to discuss this topic in more depth?”


“The most outstanding human chess player is not competitive against a computer like me. The future for a horse-racing individual gambler competing against artificial intelligence is bleak. If you wish to play against a computer, a machine that gets smarter every day, that is your option, but constantly playing a losing game is not appealing to most humans. Trey, according to your archived gambling data on harness racing, you should not be wagering against 4-year-old human children. To deceive yourself into believing you can compete against my data and analytics is absurd.”

“Nobody can be sure who is going to win a horse race.”

“That is not the point. Anomalies occur in a horse race, and you may win occasionally, but as an intellectual activity, Trey, humans are toast and will get burnt.”

“Very funny. Go into sleep mode.”

Where is the fun in this analytic gambling world? Is pari-mutuel wagering the hill we want to die on? Do we keep our heads down, do what we always do, stay in our shrinking lanes and wait for who knows what? Ducking and scrambling is not a good plan.

Our sport will never be the same, but we can be. We will never be big-time, but harness horse racing can be an enjoyable and sustainable niche sport. To remain viable in a world where pari-mutuel wagering is a relic, we must satisfy the people in harness racing who will take monetary risks on a sport of ownership.

We need to search for an arena where we have a chance, a respite from the future of artificial intelligence, quants, algorithms, and rapid-paced, instant gratification wagering. We must create a sport/passion far from the giant data/AI monster.

An untrained racehorse is a mystery, an enigma, that no computer can completely solve. The magic of a horse, especially a young horse, years in the making, is an island far from the number crunching. Perhaps our best path is a retro, slow-paced, social, seasonal, hobby/business/gambling combination.

Of course, this sounds preposterous. But not long ago, the concept of wagering on every pitch 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 can make you laugh, make you cry and make you mad. The wheel turns and stuff happens.

Hopefully, stuff will happen in our little sport. Somehow, against all odds, we must remain optimistic and lean into the magic of like-minded folks racing real horses at our own pace.