Interview with Jeff Seder - Father of Horse Technology

Interview with Jeff Seder - Father of Horse Technology

A version of this first published in July 22nd 2017 edition of The Irish Field.

In 1978 Jeff Seder founded Equine Biomechanics & Exercise Physiology (EQB) and it is now the USA's leading talent scout buyer for young unraced thoroughbred racehorses. Jeff's career is proof that the work of a bloodstock agent can be transformed through the use of sensor tech and data so it is with great honour that we can confirm he will be giving a keynote presentation at the inaugural Horse Tech Conference being held on the 18th October at the Royal Veterinary College in London.Jeff Seder

Long before we all carried smartphones and before personal computers were even invented Jeff Seder was innovating with Horse Tech. Back then technology normally meant a stopwatch and if you wanted anything more you had to buy components in a electronics store, warm your soldering iron and build it for yourself. Jeff’s fascination for horses was discovered when his girlfriend took him to visit some stables during time out from his studies of business and law at Harvard. Keen to make an impression he ended up writing his thesis on the racing statues of Massachusetts. Clearly his attempt to impress the young lady also impressed his tutors as it landed him with an A.

Following the stand out success of East German athletes at the 1984 Olympics as a result of the small communist states program to bolster their international image (it is now infamously credited with the invention of doping with performance enhancing drugs) the US started a sports medicine research program that included a young Jeff Seder. The eureka moment for founding EQB came on realising that the research being done could be adapted to horses and would provide Jeff with the opportunity to look for data where no one else was looking.

Jeff is the pioneer that proved that a data science approach to thoroughbred racing is not only viable but is now a key determinant of success. While the costs to conduct and publish such peer reviewed research may have been small change to the cold war reputation budgets of global super powers the challenge facing Jeff to collect and compile the databases that he needed was enormous. To get a sense of this one study involved data following 10,000 horses over ten years and the technology required had to be built from scratch. Fortunately, Jeff had managed to turn around a company that was in receivership and the profits made from it's sale were reinvested to turn his horse tech research dreams into a reality.

Jeff has spent his life finding ways of identifying the characteristics that will give a horse an edge in a race but it's as much an art as a scientific discipline. Value is created from using data to do more than just identify the fastest horse or the horse with the staying power. By bringing together a range of data sources that are continually being added to with advances in tech (eg. recent times genomic data has been added to his arsenal) you can become capable of accurately predicting the best way to train an individual horse and the particular races to enter them into to get results.

In the early days, the teams behind advanced elite human athlete efforts were making great use of electrocardiogram (ECG) tech but Jeff found it anything but straightforward reapplying this tech. He needed to work with Hitachi to develop a custom device for horses because the machines designed for use with humans weren't reliable enough. The inverted T waves in a horse's heart rhythm would be double counted by machines designed for the human market and artefacts were a major issue because a horse's skin has a fast twitch reflex that's used to respond to a fly landing and this could easily render the data gathered by the sensitive sensors useless. Similar issues arose with Ultrasound, so Jeff painstakingly had to reverse engineer a customised ultrasound machine before he could begin to get value from the imaging technology.chart

The availability of expensive high-speed cameras capable of recording hundreds of frames per second opened up the potential to analyse gait in ways that were previously unimaginable. Inefficient stride patterns require substantially more energy and add stress to the joints that impair performance and can lead to injuries. The identification of horses with natural efficient strides provides clear buying advantages and similarly being able to identify horses that are more extravagant can help with training and selling decisions.

Collecting the reliable data sets required Jeff to develop some unique skills for data capture as you can imagine how challenging it can be to get consistent readings from excitable young horses. To get to where he is today capable of making high quality reliable insights it's taken a life time of work and an investment of about $7M in building the companies proprietary database and the tools to use it.

With accurate new sensor tech coming to market the ability to continuously collect quality data is becoming easier but it's increasingly important to be able to capture and understand the context that goes with it. To illustrate this point think about the 10,000 digital ultrasound images of horse hearts that Jeff has collected. Yes, it would really help you begin to understand what an average thoroughbred heart looks like and to get a sense of the variability in horses but the potential value of this data increases exponentially when these images are all tagged with the age, sex, accurate sizes, training details, breeding and winning information. It's with these large datasets that you can start to be able to build models that enable you to accurately predict the contribution that a particular imaged heart is making to a 2 year old that you need to make a decision on. 

Evidence of the quality of EQB’s data insights can be found in the work they've done over the years for owner Ahmet Zayat. In 2015 when “American Pharoah” became the first horse to ever complete the “Grand Slam” of American horse racing (by winning the The Breeders Cup and The Triple Crown) while setting a new $8.3M single season race earnings record everyone began asking after Jeff's consulting work. Entered for the sales as an unraced yearling Jeff had advised the owner "Sell your house before you sell this horse" and the horse was bought back at auction by the owner for $300k. American Pharoah has proven to be a huge draw since starting his career as a stallion at Ashford Stud earlier this year.

At Jeff Seder offers Bloodstock services in the US. The company has unprecedented success at identifying unraced two year olds at auctions that go on to win graded races.

Jeff seder with be giving a keynote presentation at the Horse Tech Conference in London at the Royal Veterinary Collect on October 18th , 2017.  See First Horse Technology Conference