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How to Win

What Horse-Racing Tells Us About Hiring

If you’re ever in New York State in late July or early August, treat yourself to a visit to Saratoga Race Course. You do not even have to be a horse-racing fan to enjoy a few days in the area.
You can soak up the feel of an old town, shop for antiques, relax in a grove, drink mineral water from the Big Red Spring, and, believe it or not, see up close how difficult it is to make a good hire.
After all, bettors have tons of information about the race they’re about to pick. They know how old the horse is, who its mother and father were, who the trainer is. Bettors know the name of the jockey, how the horse fared in its last several races, how it does in various conditions. Finally, anyone at the track gets to see the horses on parade just before the race. How does the horse look? Does it seem energetic?
Yes, all this information is there to be seen and processed.
And still.
Picking the winner is so hard.
That’s why tracks make money and most bettors do not.
It’s impossible to see what’s inside the horse, how it’s feeling on a given day, etc. Just like with people.
Every race provides evidence of distributions, namely, the tendency of any group to separate itself into average, below-average and above-average performers. (My wife and I saw this very clearly, as we watched our picks, with astonishing regularity, finish last.) Horse-racing is just like life. Longshots sometimes finish first. Favorites fall by the wayside. Best bets turn out to be sucker bets. Too many picks are also-rans.
That’s the way it goes at the track and in business and sports.
Picking horses is like hiring humans in one other crucial respect: Some people are better at it than others. Those who pick well have more success stories. Those who pick poorly have more problems.
So you want to pick well. And it begins by understanding that hiring is the most important thing you do for your team.


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