clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How to bet the Preakness, according to a video game

Mobile game’s bet on Triple Crown interest pays off

horse racing photo finish screenshot Third Time

If you're just getting your money down for today's 142nd Preakness Stakes, believe it or not, a video game maker has a prediction. Just like the major team sports, the plucky Photo Finish Racing has gotten thoroughbred horse racing's Triple Crown into the action.

The mobile horse racing game hit two weeks ago at Churchill Downs when its creators, including the former Madden creative director Ian Cummings, correctly predicted victory for Always Dreaming, one of the two favorites in the Kentucky Derby. So, here's the call for the Preakness: Classic Empire to win, Gunnevera to place and Always Dreaming to show.

It's all a promotional gimmick, of course, the same as Madden's hot streak of calling Super Bowl winners (even the final score). Cummings spotted an opportunity with horse racing as a sports video game subject last year, developing Photo Finish Racing for mobile devices.

Photo Finish Racing, for Android and iOS, is more management simulation than racing action. The Triple Crown season of May to June is the only time of the year most people are really thinking about thoroughbred horse racing, and perhaps wondering if there are any video games about horse racing. There have been very few (outside of Japan), and none of the stature of the big licensed console sports titles.

Cummings and his two colleagues at Third Time were betting that would pay off for them when they built what became Photo Finish Racing. It has.

“We were pulling 100,000 downloads a day last week,” Cummings said, in the week after Always Dreaming won the Kentucky Derby. He is the 4:5 favorite for the Preakness.

“We run ads all the time, and these two months, our ads, at the same rate, are delivering double and triple the amount (of revenue) that we did before,” Cummings said. “It's very similar to Madden, with the start of the (NFL) season and the Super Bowl, these big pops of people caring.” It also helped that Google featured Photo Finish Racing on the Android store leading into the Derby.

The revenue has been enough to keep Third Time — a nod to Cummings’ other stops with EA Sports and Zynga — running soundly but not necessarily expanding, since last year's Triple Crown, which produced three different winners, fragmenting mainstream interest. If Always Dreaming wins at Pimlico today, it sets up an appointment-level sports event at the Belmont Stakes in a sport that is largely ignored, by casual gamers and sports fans alike, the rest of the year.

Cummings got the idea for the simulation from a side project that has grown out of Photo Finish Racing’s cinematic. Third Time had been talking with broadcasting partners, mainly thoroughbred racing tracks themselves, to run visualizations of the field running before the race.

“It's a big thing even within betting, and at the track not a lot of people know what (that day's) horses look like,” Cummings said. “So for a lot of people that's a valid way to make a bet.”

That led to the kind of crude logic that informed the Kentucky Derby prediction. “It was just ‘can we make a bet happen with the past histories of these horses, their times at each split, and their speed rating?’” Cummings said. “We didn't get into super in-depth stuff like what was their speed rating in that split, like was he forced to the rail.

“So we got the morning line odds, ran the simulation a bunch of times to see what bubbled to the top,” Cummings said. Lo and behold, their pick came home paying $11.40.

Cummings said the simulation is unlikely to find its way into Photo Finish Racing as any kind of feature.”"It doesn't really fit in Photo Finish, and when we're thinking about what things can we do there, it's sort of rigid and does what it does.

“Besides, getting lucky on one pick isn't much of a story,” Cummings said. “I think it'll be a story if we hit two.”

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon