Sectional Spotlight

Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands looks back on Waldgeist’s victory in Sunday’s Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

  • Wednesday 09 October
  • Blog
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The last few days have been a roller-coaster of emotions for many in the horseracing world, but one little thing filled my own heart with joy, and that is the eagerness with which race sectionals were seized upon in the aftermath of Sunday’s Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

No longer is it possible for some to maintain that the public is uninterested in such matters. “Where did Enable lose the race”, “where did Waldgeist win it?” and “what did the sectionals say?” were just three of the questions doing the rounds on social media afterwards.

France Galop are to be congratulated on identifying and addressing the appetite of the sport’s customers in this area, and in others, but there is a “but” involved. Even a cursory look at the official sectionals show that they are rather rough around the edges.

For a start, the cumulative sectional times do not tally with the finishing times. The difference is between 0.14s and 0.51s – a wide range of about a length to about three and a half lengths – ignoring what appears to be a bogus overall time for Kiseki. It is therefore very likely that sectionals along the way were offset to some degree.

In addition, visual corroboration shows that some of the margins implied at various junctures were slightly off. For instance, Ghaiyyath was given as being a length ahead off Magical at the 600-metre marker when it was clearly less than that.

In other jurisdictions – such as Australia, where they have been doing this sort of things for years – electronic sectionals are regularly validated through advanced video analysis before being pushed out into the public domain.

Anyone who has dealt with sectionals knows that this is sometimes required (but not always provided) in this country due to imperfections in some hi-tech solutions.

As a result, I have reconfigured those sectionals and overall times in line with the issues above. The all-important final-600m figures can then be converted into finishing speed %s, which identify how much each horse did before and after that juncture, and how, at least in theory, that affected their efforts.

Arc sectionals

Initial impressions that the leaders did too much are borne out to a large degree by the evidence, though the figures show that it was a bit too much rather than a lot too much for the principals.

Every one of those finishing speed %s – the horses’ speeds in the last 600m as a % of their speed for the race overall – comes in at under 100 when 101.5 is par for this course and distance.

Behind the first six, the closing sectionals are pedestrian, even after allowing for ground that was probably between “good to soft” and “soft” judged on wider times.

As we now have the overall time required to win this year’s Arc – something, crucially, the jockeys could not possibly know while the race was under way – we can establish the optimum point at which a winner “should” have passed that 600m juncture. The following illustrates this shortly after that waypoint.

Par time would be 114.54s, or about a length behind the last horse, Nagano Gold, and 37.43s thereafter.

Basic sectional theory (not to mention elementary physics) states that the further ahead of par a horse was the more its overall time will have been affected by going too fast, and that the effect will be exponential. In other words, going six lengths too fast will have more than twice the effect of going three lengths too fast.

As these things go, the pace in the Arc was not ridiculously fast, but it was fast enough to make a difference, and sometimes small differences are all that are needed.

Magical (alongside Ghaiyyath at the front in the picture) was the one who suffered most among the principals, but Enable and Sottsass (in green in fourth) suffered a bit more than did Waldgeist.

Did it make the difference between winning and losing for Enable? The numbers suggest not quite. But for a full picture we would really need to consider each and every sectional, and each and every par, and for that to happen we need copper-bottomed sectionals, both now and in the past. Merci.

If you think analysing the Arc forensically through sectionals is exciting – and I am not saying that you do – then wait until you discover that you can do the same for a three-mile novice hurdle at Chepstow.

Yep: that is what is up next. Before long, Total Performance Data will be producing sectionals at selected jumps courses to the same high level of accuracy as they have been doing on the flat, with the figures displayed in the Results Section on this site.

These will be by-furlong figures, with the earlier sectionals aggregated in order to make them easier to digest. The alternative – by-obstacle sectionals – is not really feasible given the degree to which hurdles (and even some fences) move around.

Having seen some of the data, and having used my own manual sectionals over jumps for several years to occasionally good effect, I am confident that this will be a major advance in understanding, once due allowance is made for rail movements and omitted obstacles etc.

“Jumping” may be the name of the game, but maximising a horse’s ability by racing efficiently matters every bit as much in the winter game as it does in the summer one. In both, the difference between winning and losing can be down to “getting the fractions right”.

If you are sceptical, then why not at least check out the figures when they materialise? For instance, manual sectionals showed that the majority of the field paid for doing too much too soon in last season’s Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and that the RSA Chase turned into a relative test of speed.

There are valuable lessons to be learnt from such details, especially if the data can be delivered accurately and consistently.  

Sectional Spotlight
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