Horse racing: Union graduate one of forces behind TimeformUS
SARATOGA SPRINGS As a senior at Union College in 1976, Alan Mann enjoyed a moment in which everything he loved about hockey coalesced.
He was the radio play-by-play guy in the Dutchmen’s first season with a team after almost three decades without one.
A friend of coach Ned Harkness showed up for a game one day, and Mann got to interview him — New York Rangers general manager Emile Francis.
“It was a big thrill for me as a long-time Rangers fan,” Mann said. “I was kind of wowed.”
Union’s proximity to Saratoga Springs also afforded him a chance to indulge in his other sports passion — horse racing.
That eventually led to another, much more recent, moment of synergy for the Long Island native, when he helped launch TimeformUS in July, a handicapping tool that is entering a market dominated by the Daily Racing Form and Bloodstock Research Information Services (BRIS).
The venture started by a group that includes Mann, an accountant who serves as the company’s controller, former DRF VP/digital development Marc Attenberg and highly regarded speed figure generator Craig Milkowski gives the Europe-based Timeform a foothold in the U.S.
One of the most substantial ways in which TimeformUS separates itself from the competition, Mann said, is by being geared toward tablets such as iPads to appeal to an increasingly tech-savvy betting public.
“We feel as if the standard formats that you see now — mostly PDF, and the Form has theirs on-line — we’re all used to it, so it’s second nature,” Mann said. “There’s tons of information, and it’s always served us well, but we feel like a beginner is going to look at it and it’s going to be a potential turnoff.
“The goal of our product is to try and make an easier presentation, simplify it.”
Mann, who has been writing about racing and politics on his blog, leftatthegate.blogspot.com, since 2005, became friendly with Attenberg the way many people do these days — on-line.
TimeformUS CEO Attenberg helped develop DRF’s Formulator interative past performance tool, then left DRF to form Real Time Racing LLC.
“We started out with a small crew,” Mann said. “The Timeform connection came about when Marc and Mark Midland from Horse Racing Nation contacted Timeform just to inquire about licensing their past performance data.
“They wanted their numbers, so they had discussions. As it turned out, coincidentally, Timeform had already been interested in developing a past performance product for the U.S.”
Timeform is a publishing company that was formed in 1948 to provide fans and bettors in the United Kingdom with mathematical language to represent the performance of horses on the racetrack.
Betfair, the world’s largest internet betting exchange, bought Timeform in 2006, and the TimeformUS people technically are employed by Betfair, although there is no betting component to TimeformUS yet. Betfair also owns TVG.
Over the last year and a half, Attenberg, Mann, Milkowski and crew developed the TimeformUS platform, which is partnered with the website horseracingnation.com through co-founder Midland, a former executive with Churchill Downs Inc., Harrah’s and YouBet.com.
The finished product was launched commercially to coincide with the Saratoga Race Course and Del Mar meets in mid-July.
Besides the high compatibility with tablets, PCs and laptops,
features that bettors get from the site include the Pace Projector, which predicts how the first quarter-mile of a sprint and first half-mile of a route race will shake out; running lines and expanded comments supplied by the U.K. Timeform writers; and color-coding so bettors can easily differentiate between dirt, synthetic and turf information
The numbers provided by Milkowski, whom Mann called “the mad genius behind our speed figures” on his blog, incorporate not only the final time of a race, but the early pace of the horse and the overall pace of the race, unlike speed figures that are based solely on the final time.
The running lines also show incremental times under the horse’s placement at each point of call.
Milkowski is working closely with the Timeform UK writers to harmonize speed figures for horses who run on both sides of the Atlantic, which is made tricky by the fact that TimeformUS uses a 1-100 scale, whereas its U.K. counterparts use 1-140.
The past performances, Pace Projector and other features, of which there are more to be added, show up on the TimeformUS page in a clean interactive display that is easy to navigate.
“We’re trying to simplify it, but also the digital format gives us the opportunity to present features for advanced players, too,” Mann said.
“It’s performing very well. It’s fast, it’s responsive . . . it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.”
The challenge faced by TimeformUS is wresting business away from the firmly entrenched mainstays, DRF and BRIS.
Its website has a variety of YouTube tutorials explaining how it all works, and TimeformUS believes that the arrival of its tablet-friendly tool will dovetail nicely with an increase in iPad usage by racing fans.
“The response has been really good,” Mann said. “They like the speed figures and the presentation. They feel that it’s easy to read. We try to be responsive, and there are still a lot of things in development.”
Mann, who lists the Travers wins by General Assembly in 1979 and Temperence Hill in 1980 as his most memorable at Saratoga, was quick to point out that the TimeformUS pages are printable for those who still like to get a pen or pencil out.
Initially “an iPad skeptic,” the Queens resident can often be found toting his tablet on the outskirts of the Saratoga paddock.
“We just feel like that’s something over the next two, five, 10 years that, as long as it takes, there’s going to be a point where it’s more prevalent,” he said.
“As the technology develops, I’m figuring within five years, you’ll be able to take one of these things and fold it up and put it in your pocket,” he said, laughing.