Sectional Spotlight

Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands analyses the action from the two-day Ladbrokes Winter Carnival at Newbury, including the performance of the big-race winner, De Rasher Counter.

  • Sunday 01 December
  • Blog
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If you are not yet a believer in having timing analysis in your repertoire, when looking forwards for bets and backwards for the evidence which informs those bets, then I doubt I am going to convert you now.

However, the last few days gave more good illustrations of the approach’s worth and versatility. By “timing analysis”, I mean not just analysis of overall times – which can be subject to many complicating factors – but to sectional times, and what both tell you about other meaningful issues, too.

For instance, timing and sectional analysis combined showed at an early stage of the two-day Ladbrokes Newbury Meeting that the ground was not as soft as the “soft, good to soft in places” being given officially.

That official going was switched round after the second race on Friday, but continued to lag behind reality. On Saturday, The Cashel Man nearly broke the unofficial track record for a 20f hurdle despite the race having 70 yards added to it on account of rail movements.

Speed, then, was tested more compared to stamina than might be expected for a fixture on the cusp of November and December and after one of the wettest autumns on record in some parts of the country.

The emphasis on speed or stamina dictated by the surface will also vary according to pace, of course: a fast finish plays to speed and a grinding finish to stamina. Contrary to what a few still maintain, this is best measured by sectionals – definitively, accurately and repeatably – and not by using your eyes.

A simple and intuitive method I devised years ago is to convert the speed at the finish of a race to a % of the speed for the race overall. Anything over 100% means the race, or the individual horses if applied at that level, were finishing faster than their average race speed; anything under means the opposite.

“Par” finishing speeds depend on the course and distance – stiff finishes will push the par down, easy finishes will do the opposite – but Newbury is a remarkably fair course, largely flat and with sweeping bends, and optimum figures are pretty close to 100% over jumps there.

We can, therefore, get a ready snapshot of how races worked out in general terms over the two days by simply looking at those race finishing speed %s.

Those overall race distances include yardage added due to rail movements, while sectional distances over hurdles have to be estimated anew each raceday from those hurdles’ proximity to fixed features, such as fences. Google Earth is the sectionalista’s friend!

There is a degree of simplification in those “implied pace” remarks, but some features stand out. Paisley Park showed a previously unsuspected (to me) turn of foot to win the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle on Friday, while the race won by Magic Saint on Saturday was the most strongly-run over the two days.

But no race clearly resulted in a pace collapse in which the finishing speed was well under 100%.

The figures use the time lapse between the leader passing the sectional (three out) and the leader (that is, the winner) crossing the line. They are not necessarily the same horse, and – useful though “race” sectionals are – how individual horses run their races will tell much more.

The Ladbrokes Trophy is a case in point. The winner, De Rasher Counter, finished a bit quicker than par and was in the lead some way out: others needed to finish quicker still to pass him. It proved to be an enterprising, and possibly race-winning, initiative from young jockey Ben Jones.

The following records the individual times, finishing speed %s and upgrades for the principals in the Ladbroke Trophy, with those upgrades (derived from the difference between par finishing speed % and actual finishing speed %) expressed in lengths in this instance.

By way of comparison, only two winners of the Hennessy/Ladbroke this century have finished faster in absolute terms than De Rasher Counter did on Saturday (Triolo d’Alene, 42.5s in 2013, and Strong Flow in 2003) and only one has finished faster than Saturday’s never-nearer third Elegant Escape.

To save the reader from having to do the arithmetic, sectional upgrading has Elegant Escape boosted by nearly three lengths more than De Rasher Counter, despite being beaten only two lengths by that rival.

The first-time blinkered Elegant Escape is a horse who does not do things in a hurry, but this was some performance from him under 11-12 and a BHA mark of 160.

With any one of a stronger pace, a more prominent position (difficult given the type of horse he is) or softer ground he might have prevailed, and that would have been the best winning performance, in the race itself, on Timeform ratings since subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth in 2012.

If sticking an oft-raced stamina glutton in your tracker is not your thing (though it should be pointed out that Elegant Escape is still only seven despite seeming to have been around for ages), then perhaps one of the following will appeal more, all of them picked up on sectionals.

The aptly-named NO COMMENT, who ran the fastest time from three out (42.95s) in Magic Saint’s race but was still only fifth at the line.

IT SURE IS, who stayed on nicely (56.5s sectional) but just lacked the tactical speed to overhaul Sevarano.

ONE FOR THE TEAM (55.65s), who probably should have just beaten the enterprisingly-ridden Champers On Ice

EPATANTE, who ran by some way the fastest time from three out (52.8s), two out and the last among hurdlers across the two days and who showed such ability as well as speed that connections might well consider her a Champion Hurdle hope now.

Of course, there was some good racing at Newcastle on Saturday, also, not least a somewhat controversial (in tactical terms) Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle.

The crucial difference between that race and events at Newbury is that you do not have to dig out sectionals yourself, or rely on someone else to do that for you: thanks to Total Performance Data, highly detailed splits exist and will be displayed in the Results Section on these pages.

Perhaps someday all sectional analysis will start from such a basis.

Sectional Spotlight
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