Contrary to some impressions conveyed in the media, sectional timing has a moderately lengthy, if not always successful, history in Britain now.
There were sectional timings at Wolverhampton and Newmarket towards the end of the last century, when Timeform first started incorporating them in their assessments. TurfTrax provided a large quantity of sectionals in the current century until recently. And Total Performance Data (whose figures are contextualised and showcased in the Results Section on this site) have taken things to a different level of late at a growing number of courses.
Sometimes, however, stuff happens and sectionals do not get calculated: that is life. That was the case for the first four races at Newcastle’s prestigious Northumberland Plate Festival last Saturday, which is a shame, as those races would benefit from further explanation.
How come Staxton – a useful handicapper, but no better – managed to run the 6f in a time 0.09s (over half a length) quicker than Invincible Army managed in the Chipchase Stakes despite the former carrying more weight? How come the consolation race – the Northumberland Vase, won by Carnwennan – was 0.17s (about a length) quicker than the main event despite a similar weight differential?
The answers, at least in part, are down to pace, which is best measured by sectionals. In this instance, that involves taking your own, by stopwatch and replay, or, even better, by sophisticated video analysis.
This process reveals that the leader in the sprint handicap (Giogiobbo) got to the 2f marker fully 1.25s ahead of the leader in the Chipchase Stakes (Invincible Army himself), a hefty margin in a sprint of 7.5 lengths if using a conversion of six lengths per second.
More to the point, the finishing speed %s of the former race – around 98% for the principals on what is a fairly stiff track – were close to par, while those of the latter (mostly over 102%) are markedly faster than that par.
What you saw was largely what you got with the handicappers, but the Chipchase was falsely-run. Invincible Army would likely have won the latter however things panned out, but he was able to set soft fractions, and third-placed Island of Life finished fractionally quicker and gets a bigger upgrade.
The leader in the Vase reached 3f out 1.10s ahead of the leader in the Plate, with the latter race making up several lengths from that point. Again, more to the point, the finishing speed %s show the Vase to have been truly-run (around 102.5% for the principals) but the Plate to have been steadily-run with a faster-than-par finishing speed of around 105%.
Sectional upgrading has fast-finishing Proschema narrowly best in the latter contest despite finishing only third.
TPD sectionals were back in action for the remaining races at Newcastle – while also being deployed at Doncaster, Lingfield and Windsor on the same day – and tell us, without the need for old-school graft, that Hurcle’s race was truly-run while the other three were on the steady side.
The sectionals also tell us that the surface was slower at the end of the card than at the beginning, a possibility which had been flagged up in advance by Newcastle’s announcement of Gallopmaster track maintenance before racing and after the fifth race. That gets a gold star for communication from me.
Evidence and explanation like this is apparently dreadfully boring to some, including, bizarrely, those paid to analyse events.
It need not be. An understanding and appreciation of the fundamentals can enhance the enjoyment of the sport without eliminating mystery and interpretation.
The outlook for sectionals is beginning to look rosier. But, to a large degree, the future is now, if you wish to embrace it.
There were sectionals at this year’s Royal Ascot, as regular readers will know, and some of them – or, rather, our interpretation of some of them – will be put to the test in an intriguing Chasemore Farm Dragon Stakes at Sandown at 2:20 on Friday.
Liberty Beach (25.05s last 2f when fourth in Queen Mary), Al Raya (25.37s, fifth in same race), Makyon (25.93s, eleventh in Coventry), Expressionist (25.96s, slow-starting ninth in Norfolk) and Rayong (27.08s, hampered tenth in Windsor Castle) all go over this straight 5f.
It is not those late sectionals which tell the biggest story, however. One of the above went much too fast before that and did well to run as well as he did, and that one is MAKYON.
His 14.22s (from a standing start), followed by 11.06s, 11.26s and 11.28s saw him two to three lengths clear of some fast youngsters before his exertions took their toll. Sectional upgrading has Makyon a fair but better than the result and worth a 105 rating.
That should be just about good enough to win this, though Liberty Beach (96 on sectionals) and Al Raya (94) both receive a 5 lb sex allowance and Makyon now tackles the minimum trip for the first time.
Things do not always work out as expected, of course, but Makyon has the speed and the ability to be a major contender here: the sectionals tell us that.