Sectional Spotlight

Simon Rowlands on the Horseracing Betting Levy Board’s momentous sectional timing announcement and Too Darn Hot’s victory in the Qatar Prix Jean Prat at Deauville on Sunday.

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Budgetary press releases from British horseracing’s equivalent of the Treasury – the Horseracing Betting Levy Board – are not the sort of thing which usually quicken my pulse. But, in among some predictably dry, but necessary, details in this week’s offering was a momentous announcement about sectional timing:  

“HBLB has made a commitment to work with media rights holders and their selected tracking partners, the BHA and the RCA to support the ambition of live sectional timing and tracking data being available at every British racing fixture by the end of 2021.

To this end, HBLB has agreed to contribute a total of £0.9m over the next three years to the operating costs at fixtures from 1st April 2019, in line with certain criteria and a racecourse rollout plan agreed with the relevant rights holders.

The contribution to the fixture’s operating costs for the provision of this service will allow the media rights holders and their tracking partners to invest further in developing their own tailored solutions.

Accurate and fast data for all races is widely regarded as beneficial in engaging new audiences, while also offering bookmakers the opportunity to develop more compelling betting products in an increasingly competitive market.

This technology will also provide key data-based evidence for industry priorities including equine welfare, integrity and regulation.”

You may not be surprised that I welcome this news, which I had known about for some time, though the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The HBLB needs to realise its stated ambition of live sectionals at all British fixtures by the end of 2021 (or, at least, soon after) in order for this project to be considered an unqualified success.

The provision of some form of sectionals as a standard offering in British horseracing – as is the case in many other jurisdictions, major and minor – should have happened a long time ago and is not, in my view, something which should be left even in part to private investment.   

Still, this could be the push that is needed to pass a tipping point and to herald a better future.

For that to be achieved, sectionals will need not only to be demonstrably accurate (by no means always the case to this stage) and delivered in a timely manner, but contextualised and explained to a curious but not necessarily clued-up public.

At The Races has been at the forefront of that education and contextualisation for years now, using Total Performance Data to be found in the Results Section on this site. Here is hoping that other media outlets, written and broadcast, follow suit hereafter.

The short career of TOO DARN HOT to date has been both fascinating and eventful.

An unbeaten champion two-year-old, he was winter favourite for the 2000 Guineas and The Derby, but missed both races and had failed to win in three starts this year before turning up, over just 1400 metres, in the Qatar Prix Jean Prat at Deauville on Sunday.

Even those who considered the evidence of his striding, which suggested strongly that he would not stay much beyond a mile, could be forgiven for beginning to lose faith, for the last two of that trio of races had been at that trip to little avail.

He redeemed himself at the weekend, and some, with an authoritative victory in what was admittedly a rather weak Group 1, beating the Jersey Stakes runner-up Space Blues by three lengths.

Thanks to Sky Sports Racing’s excellent coverage, British racing fans got to see all of this unfold, accompanied by on-screen sectionals which allowed for a detailed analysis of what went on.

The lead sectionals imply individual times and finishing speeds for Too Darn Hot as follows: 33.80s (103.1%) last 600m; 22.75s (102.1%) last 400m; and 11.70s (99.3%) last 200m. You should add approximately 0.06s per 200 metres to get the equivalent times for a furlong.

That is faster than par, given the overall time of 81.29s, but only slightly so. Essentially, the Jean Prat was a good test: I have a 125 timefigure on Too Darn Hot and no sectional upgrade.

It can also be inferred from race times that the surface at Deauville was significantly quicker than the “good” stated officially. There is an ongoing problem with the accuracy of going descriptions in France.

It is possible to look at Too Darn Hot’s striding in detail again, using advanced video analysis. He has not changed very much: horses seldom do.

His maximum and minimum cadence figures when winning the Dewhurst Stakes at two years were 2.49 strides/second and 2.37 strides/second respectively; on Sunday (ignoring the opening 200m) they were 2.50 and 2.37.

Fast striding limits stamina, and less than a quarter of horses who peak at as high as 2.50 strides/second end up being fully effective at beyond a mile.

The question now is “does Too Darn Hot have the speed to take on and beat top sprinters at their own game?” Despite some impressions on Sunday, I am doubtful.

Too Darn Hot should be just about OK at the 1300 metres (6.46f) of the Prix Maurice de Gheest back at Deauville in August, but a cadence in excess of 2.50 will be needed at still shorter given his unexceptional stride length (measured at a maximum of 24.8 feet against a population average of 24.4 feet) in order to break 11.0s for a furlong, as he is likely to need to do against specialist sprinters.

Good though Too Darn Hot is, he has not quite shown he has that in his locker so far.

Sectional Spotlight
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