The Time Is Now: Craig Milkowski On TimeFormUS Approach To Handicapping - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

The Time Is Now: Craig Milkowski On TimeFormUS Approach To Handicapping

“I was fascinated by speed figures,” Milkowski says about his initial interest in handicapping

“These aren't your grandfather's past performances” is saying it mildly for those familiar with the new TimeFormUS PP's, which were specifically created and optimized for tablet and web users. As the many commercials plastered to coincide with Betfair TVG timeouts proclaim, the TimeformUS team is indeed interested in helping handicappers of all levels “understand races faster.”

One key member to help accomplish that goal is chief figure maker Craig Milkowski, the founder of Craig recently took some time out from his busy figure making duties and other TimeFormUS responsibilities to talk to about his personal racing background and some of the exciting things TimeFormUS has to offer today's modern handicapper. Whether it's pace or speed figures, pace ratings or projections, trainer stats or pedigree data, TimeFormUS has today's modern player covered.

Craig… Tell us a little bit about your background – how did you first get into horse racing? Do you have a background in math, finance, statistics or computer programming?
I was first introduced to horse racing in high school by my friend and classmate, current NYRA announcer Larry Collmus.  It's funny you ask about computer programming. I was taking a class at the same time and actually wrote a program that had numbers racing across the screen, listed jockeys and odds, and allowed betting. This didn't go over very well, as you might imagine, in a Catholic school.  I was subsequently banned from the computer lab but was awarded an 'A' since the program was far above anything being taught in the class!

For those who might not be aware, you've had somewhat of an unconventional path to your figure-making prowess. For starters, you've served our country for over two decades in the United States Air Force. First and foremost, thank you for your service. What can you tell us about that background, your network administrating experience overseas, and how this all led to figure making after your retirement in 2008?
My first assignment after Basic Military Training was at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. I was reasonably close to Philadelphia Park, the now razed Garden State Park, and also Freehold Raceway. New Jersey was one of the first states to fully embrace simulcasting, so the menu was vast even in the 1980s. For the first time in my life, I actually had some money and figured I'd make more at the track. Of course that didn't really work out, as I found out I didn't know nearly as much as I thought I did. I set out to learn all I could and found the base library one day and decided to look for horse racing books. I found works by Tom Ainslie and William Quirin. I read those from cover to cover, then found more books and ordered every one I could get my hands on. I read all of Andy Beyer's books and also those of James Quinn.  I was fascinated by speed figures, but I was also doing a lot of running at that time and therefore knew that pace could have a big effect on final time. I decided I'd start making figures like those in Quirin's works, and that was the beginning of my journey.

Initially, I did all this with pen and paper, but as computers became more common, I learned to use them. I first began automating some of the process with a TI-82 programmable calculator, but it was when I was stationed in Saudi Arabia in 2002 during Operation Southern Watch that I decided to re-visit computer programming with encouragement from my youngest brother, Justin.  I had taken a few college classes in C++ during my Air Force days and started to program my ideas. It went very well, and I moved on to learning HTML so I could also display my work on the web with precise formatting and colors, something that has carried over to TimeformUS.

I never intended to do this for anyone but myself, but around the same time, I had found the message board and began making selections and talking about my figures. I was high on War Emblem in both the Illinois Derby and Kentucky Derby and his successes led to my getting a pretty good following. Many people began inquiring about my figures, so I started the website (now linked to TimeFormUS) and used that to distribute them. I did this part time while still on active duty. It was tough at times, but I had an assistant, Jarrod Brush, who helped me get through the busy times, including being stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan. My wife Elsie was also a big help getting me all the materials I needed no matter where I happened to be in the world. I retired in 2008, and maintained the site full time until approached by Marc Attenberg of TimeFormUS to join the new team.

For those that may not be familiar with their PP's, what are some the main difference between TimeFormUS and some of the other racing competitors such as DRF and BRIS?
The main information is there, but the format has been upgraded in TimeFormUS to make it much faster for the player to understand races more quickly than in the older PPs. We are interactive and designed to be used primarily online either with a PC or a tablet/iPad. TimeFormUS Speed Figures take pace into account in a rigorous methodological way to help our customers understand races better and more quickly.

One example from 2015 is American Pharoah's Preakness. He went extremely fast early in that race, which was a contributing factor to his slow final time. TimeFormUS Speed Figures apply an algorithm in that situation to adjust the numbers to better reflect the overall performance. As far as we can tell, other figure makers don't handle pace like we do. Also, our figures are harmonized to scale with TimeForm (UK), The Mothership as we like to say, and provide the TimeForm ratings for races run overseas. Comparing these to our speed figures has proven very worthwhile for our customers and was a fabulous tool for the Breeders' Cup and throughout the year when European shippers showed up in North America.

One of the main and more popular features are your TimeFormUS Pace figures and Pace projector. Besides the obvious of measuring the pace of an individual race and the effect the pace might have had on the participants, what makes the pace figures projector such a powerful handicapping tool?
The Pace Projector looks at the last five races for each horse and considers not just how fast the horse ran, but the distance and surface of the race as well as the horse's running style. This information is used to project where the horse will be positioned early under today's conditions and predict if the pace is likely to be fast, slow, or somewhere in between. It is a mechanical method that isn't perfect, but it does a great job, and even when I don't agree with the output, it is a great starting point for assessing the likely pace. We're always focused on refining the Projector to make it more accurate, but as a starting point, our customers love it for dramatically speeding up their preliminary handicapping of a race.

As the TimeFormUS chief figure maker, what are some of your daily responsibilities and perhaps some of your initiatives and added features for the product going forward?
I make all the pace and speed figures for every race run in North America. Luckily, my computer aptitude has made this possible, and there's an ongoing quality assurance process involving our databases and our handicappers. While the raw pace and speed figures (pre-variant) are automated, the track variant is done manually for every track every day. One track can take as few as five minutes if the day is easy, but can take as long as 20 to 30 minutes on tough days. I spend a lot of time watching replays while producing the variants, as you might imagine.

TimeFormUs produces its own speed figures, which take into consideration a lot more factors than some of the more commercialized figures that have been a staple in other past performances for decades. Can you tell us how they differ from say Beyer Speed figures or BRIS figures?
To be honest, I know a lot more about Beyer figures than I do about BRIS figures. I tried BRIS figures for a while and just wasn't satisfied with them, so I went back to making my own. I've always respected Beyer and his figures, but the lack of pace figures wasn't a good fit for me as a player, so I never became reliant on them. I don't want to give away many secrets, but we are different in a few ways. We adjust for pace based on distance, surface, and running style. We also have fluid “speed charts,” which allow our figures to transfer better across different distances and surfaces. I read recently that Beyer is making some changes to his speed charts because his turf figures were too low. This is something we've done all along. In fact, until the Breeders' Cup Classic was run, Tepin had the fastest two TimeFormUS Speed Figures in 2015 and both were run on turf.

There's always been a lack of consistency and uncertainty when it comes to comparing horses from the states with horses from around the world. The TimeForm Global Team has changed all that. What can you tell us about that figure comparison feature and how it works?
I had long been a fan of TimeForm and this was something I incorporated into When Daily Racing Form switched to Racing Post Ratings, I was disappointed in the results long before I ever imagined I'd be affiliated with the TimeForm brand. Before launching TimeFormUS, we spent considerable time conversing with Simon Rowlands, Graeme North, and Jamie Lynch (and others) of TimeForm to devise a way to make our figures comparable despite the ratings being generated in very different ways. It was a lengthy process and will always be a work in progress, but the results have been outstanding.  

I'm a big advocate of trainer angles and studying favorable trainer patterns and statistics. What can you tell us about the TimeForm trainer ratings and how it could save myself and other players from hours of potential research when tackling a card?
I'm with you on the trainer statistics. I use them myself.  I've learned enough to know you can't beat this game with figures alone. TimeFormUS attempts to simplify the numbers into one rating and uses a 0-100 scale, with 100 being the best. These trainer ratings look at the last five years of a trainer's results and weight the ratings for recency, ROI, and more. I'm not expert on how these ratings are calculated, but I trust them implicitly. One thing I note is when a trainer shows a “hot” designation…this is always worth closer scrutiny if I initially dismissed a horse sent out from one of these trainers.

Pedigree handicapping has increased in popularity over the past several years. From what I understand your Breeders Ratings have that portion and sector covered as well. What can you tell us about those ratings?
Again, these are ratings I didn't create, but I use them every day. They are different in that they don't look at wins and losses on a particular surface–instead they look at the TimeFormUS Speed Figures earned by the extended family. A horse could have improved its speed figure when moved to turf without winning, for example. We factor that into the ratings. 

What are some of the best successes/honors you've accrued as a handicapper?I've never been a contest player, though maybe someday I'll try, so my successes have all been at the windows. I'm a win and exacta player mostly, so really just the big name horses stick out. I mentioned War Emblem in the beginning and was also on Farda Amiga in the Oaks the day prior. That Derby/Oaks double was big for me. Funny Cide was another horse I did well on in the Derby. I didn't think he was the best horse but did think he was the best bet… something that took me a few decades to learn is the way to go! I've done very well almost every year in the Breeders' Cup both publicly with selections and at the windows. Some big priced Breeders' Cup winners I remember over the years include Tiznow, Texas Red, Hit It a Bomb, Round Pond, Unbridled Elaine, Domedriver, Squirtle Squirt, Dangerous Midge, St Nicholas Abbey, and Shirocco.

What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of racing that fans and players might not be unaware of? To say it mildly, I understand there's a little tennis in your background.
I'm a big sports fan and try to play a lot still. I've focused on tennis in recent years. I began taking it seriously when stationed in Belgium in 2003 and have grown to love it. I play with people as much as 25 years my senior and they are fit and healthy, so I think it is a good sport for a lifetime. When I returned to the states, I started playing USTA League Tennis. I began as a 3.5 rated player, progressed to 4.0, and am now at 4.5.  I led my 4.0 18+ men's team to the National Championships playing both singles and doubles this past year. We didn't win, but it was a great experience and our team will always have a special bond after all the great matches we played together. I recently found out I was named USTA's Oklahoma Men's Recreational Player of the Year. It is an individual honor, but in truth the success of the team was probably the biggest factor.

Craig, thanks for your time and I encourage all racing fans and handicappers to visit to see all the modernized exciting handicapping features that are available.

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