Prosperous Voyage wins the G1 Falmouth
Grant and Tom Pritchard-Gordon, the father and son team behind the successful Badgers Bloodstock agency, have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to technology. I remember speaking to them a decade ago when they were eulogising about iPads making their work at sales so much easier, while I was using one to carry a slice of cake to my desk. They now pride themselves on pioneering the use of ‘big data’ in their buying decisions, and credit an intensive study of numerous statistics for playing a significant role in their purchase of last Friday’s Falmouth Stakes winner Prosperous Voyage.
“Big data has become more and more part of our company since we went to Japan about ten years ago to attend the JRHA Select Sale," says Tom. "We were given a tour of Northern Farm’s pre-training centres and we realised that in terms of using data they’re so far in advance of what we’re doing here. It made us think we should try to do a similar thing with the sourcing of horses rather than training. “So I set about collating sales and racing results for yearlings who had been through the ring in Britain and Ireland, and looking for trends and anomalies that might give us an advantage.” Tom doesn’t want to lose Badgers Bloodstock’s competitive edge by giving away trade secrets, and understandably so, but he does give a broad overview of some of the data points he is looking at. “There are some obvious variables like the sire, the dam’s racing ability and the ratings of her previous progeny,” he says. “But we’ve also looked at some slightly less obvious ones like the ages of the sire and dam, and the foal number of the offspring and their date of birth, to see if they throw up any interesting angles. You can also compile a range of stats on the breeders themselves, of course. “There are so many different variables you can look at, and it’s been interesting seeing which ones play out as being more important than the others when you compare them.” For all that Badgers Bloodstock is making use of exhaustive statistical research, its operations aren’t being governed by spreadsheets, however. “It was only during lockdown two years ago that I had the time to add in more data – including, crucially, our inspection notes from the yearling sales – and to tweak and back-test it all,” says Tom. “It was then that we came to the realisation that the data was only reliable when you compared it to conformation reports. “In other words, the individual has to be right for the data to be right. The data can give you all these certain percentage increases in the chances of getting a good horse, but if the horse that the stats are pointing towards has some significant conformational faults then it all goes out of the window. “The horse that has data and conformation going for it is the holy grail, and we’re absolutely fastidious about not comparing the stats with our inspection notes until we’ve seen every horse, so that we don’t have bias towards one individual because its stats are good.” So what can Tom tell us about the data that was pointing towards Prosperous Voyage (pictured below), who is now worth many multiples of the €65,000 it took to buy her at the Goffs Orby Yearling Sale – once again, without giving away any proprietary information? “We rate every yearling against their peers on all the variables, and colour-code the differing degrees to which they are outperforming or underperforming, and she was coming up green – a good colour – on nearly every single measure,” says Tom. “Her breeder is an obvious example. The stats coming off Camas Park and Lynch Bages are absolutely phenomenal. But there were also positives for things like Mizzen Mast as damsire, and just generally she was coming out of the data far better than you would expect for a Zoffany filly at that price point.” And what is he prepared to tell us about the stats that suggested Zoetic, a £52,000 Goffs UK Premier Yearling Sale purchase who won the St Hugh’s Fillies’ Stakes at two, might be a good filly?
“She was being sold by one of the best consignors in Paul McCartan, who scores incredibly well on our data,” he continues. “A Kodiac filly from that farm at Goffs UK was especially interesting as there haven’t been that many and most had done well, including Tiggy Wiggy. So that would have represented some sort of advantage.” The case of Zoetic does make me wonder whether statistics based on past events can be misused. After all, the fact that Tiggy Wiggy happened to have the same sire and consignor as Zoetic surely didn’t have any bearing on the ability of the later filly, who is from a different female family and went into training in a different stable. Tom is alive to my objection, and swiftly counters: “I completely agree; what happened in the past doesn’t necessarily always have an impact on the future, but I’m always checking back on the data to see whether it's still effective, and there are enough positives involved to suggest it's significant. It’s amazing how cyclical events in this industry can become. “It’s also important to remember that we’re not only purchasing yearlings on the strength of a small number of data points. As I say, the stats also show that if you did that, you’d be on the road to disaster. The fact is that both Prosperous Voyage and Zoetic also had the physique and other pluses to convince us they were worth buying.” The “other pluses” Tom refers to include simple hunches about a horse or their profile. You might have read in the Racing Post’s recent interview with Grant – known to everyone as Badger, a name he was given as a child for his resemblance to the wise character from The Wind In The Willows – that he recognised Prosperous Voyage hailed from a quiet branch of a top Juddmonte family and thought that it might be about to spring back into life. “Gut feeling is important,” says Badger, who has been honing his instincts for nigh on half a century in the industry. “Certain families can be on one farm for many generations and go stale, but then flourish on a different farm in different circumstances. “It’s interesting that this year we’ve had Prosperous Voyage, Desert Crown, Native Trail and Emblem Road all hail from different Juddmonte families that had looked a little tired to varying degrees, but now appear to have a new lease of life. “I suppose you could say that with Tom crunching endless statistics on a daily basis, but both he and I still relying on our experience with horses to judge conformation and other factors, Badgers Bloodstock is now where big data meets gut feeling.” It does make me wonder, while not wishing to appear ageist but also being of a similar age to Tom and having a parent who flatly refuses to even use a smartphone, how the man who was involved in the stallion deals for Rheingold and Wollow has adapted to his agency’s technological revolution in the last decade or so. Badger responds: “Tom had a very painful five or six years when I first started using the iPad and was making some horrific mistakes, but he just about trusts me now to go off and not do too much damage.” “He’s actually remarkably tech-savvy for, ahem, a man of his years,” chips in Tom with a chuckle. It’s a score for the silver surfers, though, as Badger puts us back in our boxes by pointing out: “I’m always amused when I see Peter and Ross Doyle at the sales, and Peter is going around with his iPad and Ross has his catalogue, and won’t even consider going over to the iPad. So every now and again the old guard gets one up on the younger generation!”