Sectional Spotlight

Simon Rowlands examines the sectionals of the Prix du Moulin and the other 1600-metre races on the Longchamp card on Sunday.

  • Tuesday 10 September
  • Blog
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The consequences of Sunday’s Prix du Moulin de Longchamp promise to rumble on for some time, with Circus Maximus controversially keeping the Group 1 on the day, having passed the line just a nose ahead of Romanised, who he had hampered.

Others, including Declan Rix and Kevin Blake on these pages, have had their say on the fairness, or otherwise, of such an outcome, and connections of Romanised have indicated their willingness to appeal against the verdict.

I used to be au fait with the rules in this area in Britain, on account of sitting on the Appeals Panel here, but am not where France is concerned. So all I will say is that “justice” seemed not to be served here.  

Instead, I will look at the sectionals of the Moulin and the other 1600-metre races on the Longchamp card as an illustration of some of what can be learned about all five races.

Remember that sectional times for the leaders are displayed on-screen for French racing, which is covered exclusively in Britain by ATR’s sister organisation, Sky Sports Racing. There may be some adjustment to overall times after the event, but in this instance those were small.

Moulin leader sectionals

That colour-coding is crude but highlights some interesting features. The penultimate sectional – from 400m out to 200m out – tends to be fast, while a mid-race sectional around a bend tends not to be, which tallies with findings elsewhere.

More specifically, the opener – the Group 3 Prix des Chenes for two-year-olds – was particularly slow early and fast late, while the Moulin itself was a lot faster overall and sectionally than the other races.

The latter is what you might expect, given the abilities of the horses involved, but there is a particularly fast split in the Moulin from 1000m out to 600m out of 11.23s per 200m.

These headline figures can be converted into finishing speed %s – the speed in the closing stages as a % of the race speed overall – to give figures which are more easy to relate to given the different times and abilities on display.

Race Finishing Speed %

A fast finish, such as the 110.8% of that opener, implies a slow pace earlier, while a slow finish, such as that finale at 99.9%, implies a strong pace earlier.

Due to the need to accelerate from a standing start at the beginning of a race, plus the effect of bends and other things, par finishing speed %s tend to be a bit over 100% and are around 101.5% for most distances at Longchamp. The Moulin was closest of all to that par and looked to be a true test.

The figures quoted so far have been for the leaders, and are therefore “race” sectionals, but individual horses may run more or less efficiently according to their precise positioning in relationship to that. Feasible sectionals may be deduced for individual horses from video without much effort.

Prix du Moulin sectionals

We can conclude that Romanised ran the final 400m fractionally less efficiently than did Circus Maximus, but that fractions were what mattered in the end, and that Olmedo and Phoenix of Spain did better than the result in coming from the rear, but probably not to the degree to suggest they were unlucky.  

It is also worth recalling that swift second sectional, at the end of which Circus Maximus was closest of the principals to what had been, at least briefly, a strong pace. Maybe, one day, all of this will be put on a plate for us so that every nuance can be considered.

In the meantime, all the above, and more besides, may be inferred with only a little effort. It is the sort of analysis which is being used more and more widely these days, at least for those open to new ideas.

Speaking of which, there was a lively discussion about sectionals between ex-Timeform Jim McGrath, one-time Racing Post editor Bruce Millington, and ATR’s own Sean Boyce, on the Racing Debate on Sunday morning this week.

Millington had been antagonistic towards sectionals in the past, claiming, among other things, that their worth had not been proved, but he appears to have moved on judged by his remark “I think we all feel instinctively that the [sectional] information should be out there”. 

His and McGrath’s doubts now appear centred on whether or not sectionals are affordable and where they should figure in any list of priorities in a sport which is not exactly swimming in cash. That is a position I can respect, even if I do not necessarily agree with all of their conclusions.

Sectional timing should not have to “prove its case”, any more than electronic overall timing – which now exists and with which sectionals were contrasted rather than compared – has to prove its case.

I am not alone in believing sectional timing of some sophistication should be a given (as it is in many other jurisdictions) rather than a “nice to have”.

Despite the recent, and very welcome, Levy Board announcement of a small amount of funding for sectionals over the next three years, there remains no apparent intention for the initiative to be centrally funded in the longer term.

Meanwhile, the public interest in sectionals can possibly be gauged by a Twitter poll run by ATR leading up to and during the discussion. In response to the question “Should sectional timing be available at all racecourses”, 86% of those polled said “yes”.

It should also be noted that the Horseracing Bettors Forum detected a burgeoning interest in sectional times among the section of the betting public which responded to its much more detailed surveys. This prompted HBF to press the BHA, about a year ago, to clarify its position on the matter.   

I would not go so far as to say that sectionals are “The Will of The People”, but they are the will of a good number of them now, at least.

Sectional Spotlight
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