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GameTheory
04-10-2002, 02:14 PM
[WARNING: CURE FOR INSOMNIA BELOW]

A few of you inquired via email what "bagging" & "stacking" were, which I mentioned in the Factor Models thread. The answer is incredibly long-winded, so I figured I'd post it here & see if I could get the prize for the MOST SLEEP-INDUCING POST EVER.

I don't have enough experience with them yet to intelligently comment on how well they work, but here's the gist of the theory:

Ok, so we have a "training set" of examples (a bunch of race data) that we want to use to create a "predictor" (something which will try to predict future races from new data). We probably also have a "validation set" (data not used in training to see how well our predictor does on data it hasn't seen).

The predictor can be anything: a neural network, a classifier system, a regression tree -- anything that can be trained with the training set and be fed new data in order to predict. The final predictor may just be a mathematical formula, a set of weights to apply to each factor, whatever.

Normally, when creating a predictor, you'd just train it on the training set, and that would be that. You might also use techniques like "early stopping" to avoid over-training so it generalizes better. (Stopping the training at the point that the error on the validation set stops going down & starts going up again.)

Bagging & stacking are techniques designed to further improve generalization accuracy. They are both "ensemble" methods that involve somehow combining the results of multiple predictors to get your final prediction.

Bagging is short for "Bootstrap Aggregating", which means "combining the results of multiple bootstrap replicates." What's a bootstrap replicate? Take your training set, and create another training set of the same size by randomly picking samples out of the original. Do this WITHOUT regard to whether you repeatedly pick some of the same samples. You'll end up with 60-something percent of the original in the replicate, with the other 30-something percent being duplicates. Make 10 to 100 of these replicates, all different. Now, make a predictor from EACH one of these replicates using your normal training procedure. (You could even use different learning algorithms -- one neural network, one regression tree, etc as long as they all attempt to predict the same thing.)

So now you've got multiple predictors, all made from replicates (none from the whole original training set). To get your final prediction, you do some sort of averaging (or "voting") of the individual predictions to get your final prediction. Whew!

Bagging only works with "unstable" learning algorithms like neural networks or regression trees where small changes in the training set & initial conditions can lead to totally different predictors. With algorithms like "nearest neighbor" where it tries to find the most similar examples in the model it will make performance worse because they are "stable" and you are better off using the biggest single training set you can.


So what's stacking? It is a fancy way of combining the results of multiple predictors, although it can also be used with a single predictor. It is well-suited to use in combination with bagging. Let's say we've got 10 "bagged" predictors, except that when we made them we saved a portion of the training set that wasn't used at all. Now instead of just averaging the output of our 10 predictors to get our final prediction, we do this: we take that leftover bit of training set, and feed it to our 10 predictors. For each sample then, we get 10 outputs. In simple bagging, we'd just average them and call that our prediction. But instead, we take those 10 outputs as INPUTS in a new training set, but using the original output variable still as our "target" (or dependent variable, i.e. that thing we are trying to predict). So we train a new predictor that way, one step removed from the original training set, but still trying to predict the same thing. You can do this for multiple levels if desired, hence the name stacking. The top level predictor is the one you use to get your final prediction. The idea is that it will pick up the biases of the 10 predictors toward the original training set, and correct for them.


The literature on these two techniques claims significant generalization improvement from bagging over using a single predictor (usually by 20% or more), and with stacking added on a further improvement by a factor of two, with no result worse than simple bagging alone. Like I said, I don't know how well it is going to work on my stuff yet. You regression guys might want to give a whirl and see what happens...

[END OF LONG & BORING POST. RETURN TO YOUR LIVES.]

PaceAdvantage
04-10-2002, 02:24 PM
Long and boring?? Far from it....thanks for the food for thought!!


==PA

GameTheory
04-10-2002, 02:34 PM
I should have added the caveat that IF you find it interesting, as I do, then YOU are probably boring, as I am. In any case, I haven't had much luck picking up chicks with this sort of topic...

Jaguar
04-11-2002, 12:40 AM
My experience in handicapping with several different neural net programs was disappointing.

It may be that because neural nets are so subtle in their analytic approach, that they are unable to capture elements which are uniquely powerful predictors.

For example, we know that if we take Nunamaker's impact values and enhance them by adding pace analysis, we get a killer app., when we make models based on linear regression analysis.

Whereas, with neural nets, we are by definition trying to discover very esoteric patterns.

In other words, while neural nets are brilliant at some types of analysis, when it comes to horse handicapping, they can't find the forest because they can't see beyond individual trees, or groups of trees.

Linear regression analysis seems a better mode of measuring a horse's performance potential, because regression weights large, discrete chunks of data, which might not even be observed by neural nets- which are looking for subtle threads.

In fact, vector analysis by itself, is a stronger method of handicapping than a combination of neural nets. Furthermore,
if we take vector analysis(acceleration-deceleration measured in fps) and combine it with a measurement of the horse's form cycle(23-day cycle- See David Brown's study) and add to that a "consistency within class" measurement, we wind up with a pretty darn good handicapping method, even without using Nunamaker.

Add Nunamaker, and you're in business.

The case against neural nets as applied to horse handicapping is best proved by RaceCom's program Analog 2.0, a huge and expensive flop.

Jaguar

Dave Schwartz
04-11-2002, 02:03 AM
Jag,

Who is David Brown?

Dave

Jaguar
04-11-2002, 02:58 AM
Dave, the late David Brown was quite a guy. He was an amateur and enthusiastic student of science, as applied to horse and greyhound handicapping.

David Brown was also an accomplished propeller plane pilot, a successful insurance executive, a millionaire, and a gentleman.
He was- due to press coverage- widely known in the 1970s and 1980s as the most successful greyhound handicapper of the day.

Though modest by nature, David Brown would- on occasion- show a skeptic some of his IRS Form 99s issued to him by the greyhound tracks he frequented in his home State, Florida.

He was a pioneer in using a personal computer for handicapping.

In the days before legal lasix and bute, David Brown's studies in form cycles were very useful. Today form cycles have been somewhat adulterated by legal and illegal drugs, and no longer have the standalone utility they once had for the handicapper.

For example, not too long ago, 85% of winning horses had raced within 15 days of today's race.

Nowadays, juiced-up animals coming back after a 45-day layoff,
can sweep the field.

David Brown's achievements probably belong to the age that he lived in, the pre-internet era. But, looking back from today's vantage point, he was a heckuva handicapper for his day, a very wise man, and a great human being.

David Brown died around 1989. Anyone who knew him thinks of him fondly.

He certainly would have enjoyed meeting you.

Jaguar

GameTheory
04-11-2002, 07:47 AM
Yeah,

I haven't had much success with getting neural nets to much of anything using standard "backprop" training. I've had better success using genetic algorithms to create the neural net because you can really steer it where you want it to go, but I think NN's have been an over-hyped & under-performing approach in general...

Arkle
04-12-2002, 07:36 AM
Jaguar, I thought I read somewhere that Racecom's Analog 2.0 only did a post position analysis based on track, distance, and size of field?

If that's true, then it didn't have much chance of success to begin with.


Originally posted by Jaguar

The case against neural nets as applied to horse handicapping is best proved by RaceCom's program Analog 2.0, a huge and expensive flop.

Jaguar [/B]

wes
04-12-2002, 10:34 AM
Jag

Did Mr. Brown have the SQUARE system for handicapping or was that some one else?


wes

Jaguar
04-12-2002, 10:38 AM
Arkle, when RaceCom's Analog 2.0 appeared it was the successor to their earlier pace analysis software, but Analog 2.0 went way beyond that.

Analog 2.0 was touted as "the answer" for horse handicappers because it was produced by the men who revolutionized financial market analysis.

Joseph and David Shepard were the first computer scientists to use neural nets for the analysis of securities and other financial instruments. A book was written about them and their products were a sensation in the early and middle 90's.

While they were making a fortune selling to investment firms, they continued to issuing half-hearted handicapping programs, which evolved into Analog 2.0.

The Analog 2.0 concept of pace analysis was very sophistcated and the idea of training and modeling behind it was brilliant. The Achilles heel of the product was that it used very subtle neural nets.

The end result was that one horse could not be compared to another horse at today's class and distance.

Their current program, Analog 5.0 has corrected all that and is the state-of the art handicapping program on the market. No other program comes close to it in it's predictive power.

Anyone who bought Analog 2.0 is astonished.

Jaguar

Jaguar
04-12-2002, 10:52 AM
Wes, David Brown's first handicapping method involved analyzing horses and dogs in groups or "teams"- as in PP 1-4 and 4-8- for example.

Once he had selected the best animal in each of 2 or three segments of the race, he "baseballed"or "key wheeled" those entrants in his bet, to wit: 1/234/234 and 234/1/234 etc.

He used sound principles for selecting his key animals, but his handicapping made a quantum leap of improvement when he applied Huey Mahl's thereom of measuring expended energy.

David Brown had to withdraw his excellent hand-held Sharp handicapping calculator from the market, due to a lawsuit from a jealous handicapper.

Had he lived, his superb calculator would have been, I am sure, re-issued and revised, and many handicappers would be taking it to the track and OTB today.

David's widow told me that the calculator will not be sold. Pity.

Arkle
04-12-2002, 03:54 PM
Jaguar:

According to their website, RaceCom is about to issue a new version of their handicapping program; their pricing structure is unclear - at least to me, other than that the software is expensive.

There doesn't seem to be any track record available on the website. I note that one of their conditions of sale is that there is no returns policy; you buy it, you're stuck with it.

Given the number of dabblers out there, I can understand this, but surely if anyone is thinking of buying it under these circumstances, they would have to have some form of record of past accomplishments?

Seems strange to me.

By the way, thank you for your patience in answering these queries; I'm sure they've been dealt with many times before here and elsewhere.

Regards,

Arkle




Their current program, Analog 5.0 has corrected all that and is the state-of the art handicapping program on the market. No other program comes close to it in it's predictive power.

Anyone who bought Analog 2.0 is astonished.

Jaguar [/B][/QUOTE]

Jaguar
04-13-2002, 12:04 AM
Arkle, until recently RaceCom was updating their results page on their website.

I assume that the imminent release of their latest update for Analog 5.0- which is called "Analog 7.0"- has caused them to lose interest in promoting the older software.

When dealing with RaceCom, one has to remember that the company has an installed customer base which has reached critical mass.

In other words, the expense and relative awkwardness of using a RaceCom handicapping program, has very likely resulted in RaceCom winding up in a low-growth stage.

Few people can afford RaceCom's products and services, and those people who can afford to be a RaceCom customer are dedicated to the company and it's products.

While RaceCom burned out so many of their original customers in the last 15 years, they have acquired an entirely new group of customers- who know nothing of RaceCom's wretched earlier handicapping- and this new group is profiting mightily from Analog
5.0.

The reason I say that it is less than convenient to use RaceCom's handicapping products, is because while heretofor the company sold their programs on floppies- today they have a policy of emphasizing their in-house race-training and handicapping capability.

RaceCom has an enormous horse race database and they make incredibly accurate models. They even offer a "deluxe" handicapping service which will allow customers access the company's server and train on it. Amazing.

Please note that Racecom's very brief comments on their website seem to indicate that their planned policy of no longer selling the discs(CD's of course, I assume these days- as opposed to floppies) has been reversed, and that RaceCom will continue to sell their software.

For a while, it appeared in recent years that RaceCom would simply allow their customers to access the company's server for a monthly, 6-month, or annual fee- as opposed to selling the software itself.

I have not been a RaceCom customer since the middle 90's, but I may be again someday. They win 66% of their trifectas.

That is, when they indicate which horses to bet in a trifecta, that bet is a winner two-thirds of the time. I have tracked their output for almost a year, and their accuracy is mind-boggling.

While the typical, pace-oriented, traditional programs pick an occasional brief series of winners at different tracks, their results are sporadic.

RaceCom's models just dominate horse racing in a way that old handicappers like myself have never imagined would be possible.

I am a former system developer myself, and I am an extremely harsh judge of the sloppy and inadequate programs on the market.(Anyone who is not using Horsesense, Joe T.'s new program, or Thorobrain, or Snapcapper, is going into battle under-gunned.)

Napolean is quoted as having said, "Victory belongs to the big battalions."

Well, in the handicapping wars, RaceCom isn't a battalion- it's a Brigade- and a big one at that.

Jaguar
04-13-2002, 12:33 AM
Arkle, I made an error in my latest reply to your query about RaceCom. I referred to "Joe T.'s new program".

Apologies to Joe. I should have written, "Joe Z.'s new program."

Joe Zambuto's recently released handicapping method is a comprehensive, sophisticated, and altogether impressive package.

Jaguar

PaceAdvantage
04-13-2002, 01:12 AM
Jaguar,

I find it mind-boggling that you have nothing but the highest praise for RaceCom's offerings, but yet you say this:

I have not been a RaceCom customer since the middle 90's, but I may be again someday.

If you haven't been a customer since the middle 90's, how can you know that their recent crop of offerings performs so well?? And if their software performs as you claim, why the hell AREN'T you a customer right now???

How do you reconcile these incongruous statements?? Have I missed something you said that explains this?

In addition, you are perhaps one of only a handful of people I have ever heard or read about IN MY LIFE that had positive things to say about RaceCom and their software. Why do you think this is so??


==PA

Dave Mark
04-13-2002, 08:18 PM
I purchased the Square Method years ago for $100.
Had some good points, however, I felt they would Definitely be best for his forte, Greyhound Racing.

Jaguar
04-13-2002, 11:58 PM
Sir, I believe I answered several of your questions in my earlier posts relating to my bitter experience with RaceCom's earlier software.

In case my comments were incongruous, please let me briefly re-state my history as a RaceCom customer.

I was an early user of RaceCom handicapping programs, and I faithfully bought their upgrades for 5 or 6 years.

Although these programs were virtually unusable(excepting only their very first disc, which was plain vanilla Sartin.), I could see that Joseph and David Shepard were briiliant young men who might one day really produce a "breakthrough" horse program.

Having built up a great deal of ill-will among their customers by 1995, the RaceCom User's Group was in open rebellion. The head of that group- with whom I was in regular contact- resigned from the group in a big blow-up.

Most of us headed for the exits, including me. I am a pretty level-headed guy, but I lost my temper on the phone with them and pretty well burned my bridges with RaceCom.

Some months later, I received a letter of apology from them, stating the obvious, i.e., their much ballyhooed new neural net program, Analyst 2.0, did not work.

They went on to say that they had decided to make a concerted effort at developing a handicapping disc that really did work.

Having wasted several thousand dollars with them already, I just threw the letter in the trash, and forgot about RaceCom.

About a year later, at a Turf Investor's seminar at the Imperial Palace in Vegas, and among some New York handicappers I used to see at the OTB parlor on 37th St. in Manhattan, I began to hear the buzz about RaceCom's latest program.

About a year ago, I endeavored to break the ice with RaceCom, and to re-establish friendly relations with them. I started tracking their output, and a RaceCom user I know became very puffed up about the money he was making with them.

RaceCom regularly put their results up on their website, and I became a believer again.

This year I had a large insurance situation which went against me to the tune of $4,890, which I am still paying.

Software which costs $2,500 will not be under the Christmas tree this year, in all likelyhood.

Hope this answers your query.

Jaguar

PaceAdvantage
04-14-2002, 12:09 AM
Originally posted by Jaguar
Although these programs were virtually unusable(excepting only their very first disc, which was plain vanilla Sartin.), I could see that Joseph and David Shepard were briiliant young men who might one day really produce a "breakthrough" horse program.

If the programs were unusable (except for the Sartin-type program), what made you see that these guys were brilliant??

About a year later, at a Turf Investor's seminar at the Imperial Palace in Vegas, and among some New York handicappers I used to see at the OTB parlor on 37th St. in Manhattan, I began to hear the buzz about RaceCom's latest program.

What's Turf Investor??

About a year ago, I endeavored to break the ice with RaceCom, and to re-establish friendly relations with them. I started tracking their output, and a RaceCom user I know became very puffed up about the money he was making with them.

How did you track their output if you weren't a customer?

RaceCom regularly put their results up on their website, and I became a believer again.

If by "tracking their output", you mean you just read what their results were on their website.....how in the world did this make you a believer given the past history of this company? Why in the world would you trust what they put on their own website if you already (and these are your words), "...wasted several thousand dollars with them..."


Not trying to be confrontational here....just trying to understand your logic....


==PA

Jaguar
04-15-2002, 12:45 AM
Sir, happy to try and answer your questions.

Please remember that I have been at this handicapping game in earnest since 1980. During these years I have owned and used
alot of horse handicapping software.

I have also been able to meet a number of well-informed handicappers, who have themselves owned a considerable variety of horse programs.

I gamble on horses at a large teletheater where I have friends who are early adopters- and one who sometimes receives new versions of software in beta format.

For a couple of years, I was a beta tester. I worked on AllWays and other programs. (By the way, Ron Hall at Frandsen publishing is one of the sharpest handicappers out there.)

I have attended a number of handicapping seminars in different cities, over the years, and gained alot of insight at those seminars.

Turf Investor is a well-designed computer program which was quite breath of fresh air in 1995, because the conventional wisdom among handicappers then was the Huey Mahl/Sartin pace methodology, which came out of Mahl's ground-breaking work titled "The Race Is Pace."

Turf Investor had excellent pace analysis, but was enhanced by weighted factor values- a pioneering concept at the time, and one which was first used by Multistrats.

One could tell that RaceCom was a source of seminal new technology, not only from the increasing sophistication and complexity of their upgrades issued every 2 years or so, but from talking with Joseph and David Shepard.

RaceCom took neural net approaches they had successfully used in analysing the financial markets, and adapted those methods for horse handicapping. Oddly, for all their scientific rigor and cleverness in analysing pace, the raceCom programs from 1991 to the late 90's simply didn't work as a handicapping tool because the programs were too subtle.

These programs effectively chose pace lines and gave detailed accounts of energy expended in those selected races. Where the programs fell down, was that one horse could not be compared to another at today's class and distance.

My impression of RaceCom's approach to handicapping over the years is that RaceCom regards conventional handicapping truths(class drops, impact(also called "factor") values, etc. as Shibboleths.

RaceCom's theory of handicapping was startling, unconventional,
and flew in the face of everything that we old-line handicappers held near and dear in the 1980's and 90's.

Some skeptics felt justified in gloating when RacCom's neural net methods failed, believing that traditional handicapping methods(as in studying The Form for 4-hours a day) had been vindicated.
The catcalls and derisive comments were heard across the land.

RaceCom's victims- I mean customers- were financially embarrassed and their pride was hurt.

Once RaceCom redeemed themselves(remarkable as it may be to their disappointed early customers) by producing an effective handicapping tool, the company periodically placed their race output and the results of those handicapped races on their website, as a selling tool. That's when their new customers jumped in, along with a few diehards whose wallets had somehow survived exposure to the disastrous early RaceCom products.

I may have been one of RaceCom's angriest and harshest critics, but I have to give credit where credit is due and say that RaceCom took a conventional method of pace analysis and enhanced it beyond what most handicappers thought was possible, by creating accurate models from a huge database.

The net effect is that when RaceCom handicaps a race they compare apples to apples in such a refined, detailed, and discreet way. Any new race to be handicapped must fall within the model's template- or benchmarks, if you will. Otherwise, there is no forecast made for that race.

In short, and I realize that this is over-simplefying the matter, the predictive authority of RaceCom's ouput derives from the precision of their models.

I hope these comments shed some light on the subject.

Unfortunately, while it is fun to reminisce about by-gone handicapping methods, those approaches have very likely been swept into the dustbin of history, by new science and new technology.

Sure, it was alot of work to handicap a horse race 20 years ago. But, when you cashed a ticket, it was so satisfying.

Now that handicapping has been automated, I doubt that we "old-timers" will have the same feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when the top pick on our printout hits the finish line first.

Sadly, we are now bystanders at what is still the greatest game in the world.

Drugs didn't kill horse racing, neither did computers, thank Heaven.

Long may these magnificent, noble animals run.

Jaguar

PaceAdvantage
04-15-2002, 01:36 AM
Jaguar,

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I don't mean to sound like a pain in the butt, but I still don't understand how you gained all this insight into their newer programs without ever becoming a customer again. Either you are being vague about how you came to be so knowledgeable and impressed with their newer offerings, or I am completely misunderstanding what you are trying to say.

For instance, how can you get the following insight from just looking at output and results on their website:

I may have been one of RaceCom's angriest and harshest critics, but I have to give credit where credit is due and say that RaceCom took a conventional method of pace analysis and enhanced it beyond what most handicappers thought was possible, by creating accurate models from a huge database.

The net effect is that when RaceCom handicaps a race they compare apples to apples in such a refined, detailed, and discreet way. Any new race to be handicapped must fall within the model's template- or benchmarks, if you will. Otherwise, there is no forecast made for that race.

Seems to me you'd have to be exposed in totality to their software in order to come to such a conclusion. You can't get that kind of insight from merely looking at posted output and results and some word of mouth, can you??


Again, I apologize if it seems I am badgering you. That is not my intention at all.


==PA

Jaguar
04-15-2002, 03:32 AM
Sir, glad to oblige. My limited knowledge and understanding of the nuts and bolts of RaceCom's Analog 5.0 derives from my incremental exposure to the several upgrades which preceded Analog 5.0.

I "grew up" with RaceCom software- as it were. Therefor I had the experience of learning the nuances and functions of features added to each upgrade.

I came to understand the concept behind these neural net methods and to understand to what extent they were practical and applicable as handicapping tools.

To this day, I have every single handicapping program ever issued by RaceCom, in a 15-year period. Why I saved them? I don't really know.

When I compare and contrast the features in Analog 5.0 to the criteria used by the earlier Analog 2.0, several differences are apparent.

For one thing- and Joe Shepard might say I'm completely wrong, there appears to be a disguised "consistency" rating in the categories indicated on Analog 5.0's main screen.

That is, it is my surmise that one of the "hidden" ratings used by Analog 5.0, is a measure of how that horse performs in terms of "in-the-money" consistency within certain class parameters.

Meaning that the model will inevitably reflect that if a horse shows a high level of consistently good performance within a certain class, that horse may race in a different class with success(modified of course by pace analysis) within certain limitations.

Also, the newer modeling feature seems to be based on an analysis and a comparison of a horse's performance bounded by very specific categories.

In other words, Analog 5.0's models are severely constrained and delimited. A horse racing at 6 furlongs at Belmont will be analysed based only on its performances at that distance and within certain class categories. This is why RaceCom will not include a race in their output which does not fit the "reliability" straight-jacket of the designated model.

Any race which contains too much "guess work", such as extrapolating a pace scenario from a horse's previous 7f race to predict its performance at today's 6f distance just isn't done any more, I believe.

Perhaps there's a kernel of truth in this crude effort to better understand the direction RaceCom's headed with their software.

Jaguar