Sectional Times haven’t been widely available in the UK or Ireland, and it may be some time yet before they’re available for all races, but with Sectional Timing recently introduced for the British Champion Series, at least some progress is being made. It was sectional timing aficionados that first spotted Frankel as a potential superstar after routing his rivals on his second start. Yes the impression he gave was such, that just using your eyes would be enough to suspect he was good, it was the hand held sectionals than many took, that gave a far greater degree of certainty, that we were watching something special. Horse Racing Analysis, and the conclusions you can draw from it, are far more accurate with the data to back up, what you see with your eyes. I’m going to go through a few, of the many ways, you can use sectionals to improve your understanding of what a given horse achieved. If you join my Premium Advisory Service the tips you receive will often be based on a sectional timing angle, and these angles can be very profitable, as the betting markets are ignorant to most of them. Likewise my Nap of the Day page will often use sectional times in the analysis of a race.
There seems to be some misconceptions about sectional times out there, one being that they’re of little use in the UK or Ireland, because of the variety of our courses, and regular rail movements, in comparison to the flat, oval, left handed tracks, in the US. The rail movements actually make them of more use, rather than less. That is on the condition that we also get the distance travelled data, that Trakus has provided to US punters for years now. Turftrax provide the sectional times for UK racing at the moment, and when I tweeted their managing director Mike Maher, to ask could Turftrax provide accurate distance travelled data, he replied with ‘We have done in the past, and have been testing again recently, hopefully later in the year we will provide again’. This data would be vital if sectional times are to take off over here. It should be noted that accurate data is a must, and there was some issues with the Royal Ascot sectional times last year. Hopefully this has now been sorted out, and this year’s data is 100% accurate.
The fact our tracks are not flat ovals, as they are in the US, is only a minor inconvenience, yes some furlongs could be uphill, and others could be downhill, but to adjust for that, all you need to do is compile some standard sectional times, for each section, of each course. This is a relatively simple process once we have enough data to go on. It would involve using races were the winner recorded a fast overall speed figure, after going/wind adjustments are made. We would then arrive at an optimal percentage that a horse should spend in each section, in comparison to their overall time.
The punters who claim sectional times have no use, are in fact contradicting themselves, the same people will claim a horse was unlucky because he was blocked in his run, before flying home. Why is it they think he was unlucky? Is it because he went slower than optimal while he was blocked, before finishing faster than optimal. At least that would be the assumption they’d make, but with no concrete proof to back it up, and just because they see it with their own eyes, they think it’s not the same as using sectional times. If in fact they used sectionals, they could claim the horse was unlucky with a much greater degree of certainty. It may have been the horse was blocked in, when the leaders were actually kicking for home to soon, and thus the horse in question was far from an unlucky loser, but was in fact flattered. Jamie Spencer gets loads of stick from some punters, who are totally ignorant of the factors that influence how fast a horse will run. Many times Jamie maximizes the horses finishing position, by refusing to chase what he feels is a premature move by other jockeys, yet he is seen as leaving it too late, just because the horse was a fast finisher. In many cases his horse is slowing down, and is only gaining because the others are legless, after going too fast, too soon.
In his article How to use Sectional Times for Profitable Betting, Simon Rowlands details a method for using each horses closing sectional, and adjusts their overall time rating, based on a formula that takes into account how far from optimal, the horse ran in that section. It’s a simple enough formula, and will work as a good guide to what type of adjustments you should be making. I tested Simon’s formula on some old All Weather sectional data, using Racing Post ratings for horses that finished in the first 3, and then ran in a handicap next time. I adjusted the RP ratings by the amount his formula suggested, and then made another adjustments, so that in each race, the adjusted ratings for the first three home, equalled the total of the RP ratings. For example, if the RP ratings were 1st 80, 2nd 70, 3rd 60, and the formula suggested the 2nd horse home was 5lb better than the result, with the 3rd horse 10lb better, and the winner equal. I would adjust the 3 ratings so they still total 80+70+60. The winner would now be 75, the 2nd 70, and the 3rd 65.
After making these adjustments, I then tested these ratings against RP ratings for horses who next ran in a handicap. I found that the adjusted ratings correlated better with the results, than the original Racing Post rating. This is no mean feat, as the RP ratings are arrived at after taking ease of victory into account, and as such should have an advantage over an automatic adjustment. I myself looked further into the sectionals I had, and came up with a complex spreadsheet to predict an overall rating the horse could have run to, if they were paced perfect throughout the race. I took into account 5 different sectionals from each race, rather than just the closing sectional. I used a process were given a horses final time, it would have optimal times for each section. I then calculated how much excess energy it used for going too fast, or saved going too slowly, in each section. If the horse didn’t use his energy optimally, then it would have a negative energy score, I’d then take say 0.05 seconds off the overall time and repeat the process, until the energy score was no longer negative. The aim was to estimate what time the horse could have run if he had raced optimally.
The results of my tests were quite good, in that they correlated even better against future results, than Simon’s formula. That’s to be expected since I used far more info, and Simon created his formula to be used in conjunction with hand timed sectionals, were it isn’t practical to get sectionals for each furlong. So in theory until we have full sectionals, my formula is of little use for predicting a rating for each runner.
These alterations to final time, or even using sectional adjustments for horse ratings, are only a guide. Horses aren’t machines, and they all have different attributes. Each horse will have a top speed they can achieve at any given moment, the energy it has available will dictate what it is. They will also have an acceleration speed, which dictates how quickly it can reach its top speed.
An example of when adjusting ratings, by average optimal sectionals can be flawed, would be when one horse is a speedy type, that wouldn’t really stay the trip in a true run race, and another that needs every yard of the trip. Take Cavalryman winning the Dubai Gold Cup over 2 miles, at Meydan in March. He’s a horse whose optimum trip is short of 2 miles, indeed anytime he’s met a true test at that trip, he finished weakly. Here though the pace was slow, and he had by far the most speed for the sprint for home. Using a one method fits all adjustment, would see him being rated much better than the result, as he made his ground in the fastest part of the race, but in reality it’s doubtful he’d have even won the race, had it been run at an end to end gallop.
Horses have what I like to call a breaking point, it is the point where they start to slow down, while being asked for maximum effort. Even a horse full of running will only maintain their top speed for 2 furlongs. I happen to think 2 furlongs is an optimistic estimate for most horses. For some horses the decrease in speed will be a gradual process, for others the pace they go, will fall off quickly, once they go into the red zone.
Generally stayers will have a slower fall off, than speedier horses, horses with a good turn of foot are others that will slow down quicker, I’d imagine this is because they give everything they have when asked, and thus once they start to slow, they’ve used up most of their available energy. Staying types tend to be lazier, and perhaps don’t quite give their maximum when asked, and thus can maintain it longer. If we had sectional timing over here, we’d be able to determine which horses stopped quickly, once in the red zone, and which kept going for longer. We could better ascertain a horses trip preferences by analysing their internal splits. A horse who wants further will generally not be able to go quite as fast, with loads of energy left, but as the energy available decreases, they will keep going better than horses who want shorter. Knowing how horses achieve fast times over various trips, means you could compare your horses times to the optimal for different trips, and quickly spot whether his profile is better suited to a different trip.
A horse’s optimal energy usage is slightly different on soft ground, than on fast. If even pace was optimal on fast ground, then finishing slightly slower is optimal on soft. In sprints a horse achieves its best times when they finish decelerating slightly. This is because horses use anaerobic energy for the first few furlongs of a race, and in sprints this forms a larger proportion of the overall distance. Anaerobic energy is more explosive, and thus to achieve its best time a horse needs to go fast early, slower late. Once you go above about 10 furlongs, with everything else being equal, and good ground, then even pace is optimal.
The pace a race is run at greatly effects the distance between runners at the finish, yet official handicappers persist in using the same pounds per length scale, regardless of pace. You often here comments like, we couldn’t have him any higher, because of the proximity of so and so. The opposite happens in races that are run at too fast a pace, horses win by much bigger margins, and because the handicapper takes no account of the extreme pace, we end up with some inflated ratings. Kauto Star in his 36l King George win in 2009, would be a good example. The handicapper in his wisdom, saw fit to raise his rating from 186 to 193, with the incredibly basic logic, that he beat Nacarat by 40l. Since Nacarat is consistent, he deemed him to have run his race, and rated the race around him. He then used his normal pounds to lengths scale, to add 31lb to Nacarat’s 162 rating. He didn’t seem to consider that Nacarat had finished punch drunk, and thus couldn’t possibly have run to the best of his capabilities.
The speeds that horses finish a race at, could be used to formulate a pounds per length scale, which actually reflects how much of a test the race provided at that trip. If a 10 furlong race is run at a hack canter for 5 furlongs, it defies logic that the same scale is used, than if they had gone flat out from the off, and finished legless. Using the exact speed a horse hits the line at, could be used to gauge if it used all its energy optimally, hitting the line below optimal could mean it was asked for full effort too soon, while hitting it above optimal speed, could mean its challenge was delayed to long.
If you owned a horse who comes off the bridle in a race, and yet is still racing at the same speed 4 furlongs later, the chances are he isn’t being outpaced, but rather he’s keeping some back for himself. This type would be a prime candidate for headgear. If the horse comes off the bridle, and slows down gradually, but still by less than would be expected, this horse probably want’s further.
You could use sectionals to examine the conditions a horse performs to its best in, are they better in fast early, slow late races, or the opposite? It would be easy to come up with speed figures for each section, to quickly compare how fast they were going for the horse’s ability. You could then build a profile for a horse that shows how different internal splits affect its chances. Many horses will have a 2 furlong limit, that if exceeded, will end their chance, and result in them running well below par. I believe horses are capable of far more consistent form than it seems, the reason they often run bad, is because they were asked to do an internal fraction that puts them in the red zone to soon. The options are endless, and those that think fractional times are of little use, are living in ignorance of the possibilities. I’ve only touched the surface in this article. For further reading I suggest reading the piece I linked to from Simon Rowlands and also his other articles on Betfair. James Willoughby also did a very good Pace – The Final Frontier Series on his blog.
When someone tells you sectional timing is of no use in UK horseracing, smile politely, and nod your head, safe in the knowledge, that when you’re hitting the blue button, they’re most likely hitting the pink one, when you’re hitting the pink button, they’re most likely hitting the blue one, and when you’re hitting the withdraw button, they’re most likely hitting the deposit one.
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