Sectional Spotlight

Simon Rowlands makes the case for sectional timing and outlines how sectionals can tell whether a race has been truly-run which impacts on the reliability of the form.

  • Wednesday 12 June
  • Blog
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This week’s attheraces.com Sectional Spotlight starts by addressing remarks made in British horseracing’s trade paper last week, questioning whether sectionals are “useful” and claiming that this matter has “never been properly written” about.

Happy to oblige with an answer, though it should be pointed out that this has been addressed time and again for those prepared to look somewhere other than in British horseracing’s trade paper. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

“The efficiency with which a horse races will affect its performance, and that efficiency is best measured through sectionals, which may then be factored into assessments of that performance.”

Hold that thought: it is, in essence, as simple as that.

If you require a more detailed explanation then let’s look at each part of that statement in turn.

If you do NOT think that the efficiency with which a horse races affects it performance, then you presumably think it makes no odds whether a horse enters a home straight 100 yards ahead or 100 yards behind, or that it would make no difference if you set off on a marathon at 100-metre speed.

Back in the real world, such things severely affect performance, for neither you nor the horse you bet on is immune to physical laws.

Every time a pundit on television, or someone writing in the media, refers to the presumed effect of pace, they are acknowledging this inescapable fact. What they may not be doing, however, is measuring what they are observing correctly or usefully.  

The second part of the statement – that efficiency is best measured through sectionals – is where some resistance may be encountered. A sport which, in Britain at least, has spent centuries failing to measure things precisely has instead developed ways of estimating such things by other means.

An experienced race-reader may well fancy that he or she can gauge pace unerringly with the eye, but none of them – and I have worked with dozens of the best in my time – can tell the difference between a furlong being run in 11.5s and one being run in 12.0s, each and every time and with faultless precision.

We have stopwatches and other timing devices to measure such things, and to tell us what the time is in your daily life, so that we do not have to guess.

If you accept that pace and efficiency matters, then why guess when you can be precise? That does not mean you have to foist a load of numbers on your viewers, or readers, simply that your conclusions should be based on evidence, where it exists, rather than hunch.

If you know for sure that a race was strongly-run or slowly-run, suited hold-up horses or those that raced prominently, can be trusted or should be viewed suspiciously, and that some performances need to be marked up or down, then the effort should be worth it. Not just in terms of winners, but in terms of understanding and enjoyment of the sport.

It is easy to reach this level of insight. Don’t let anyone try to kid you otherwise.

The last element of the statement – the factoring in of sectionals to assessments of performance – is more complicated if undertaken seriously, and may be where a few understandably back off. It is not obligatory, but for those who wish to go down that road, there is plenty in print out there.

There is also now a lot of data available – not least Total Performance Data sectionals to be found for free elsewhere on this site – for those so inclined.

Plenty, including many of the most successful punters and professionals in the game, are so inclined. You can join them, or you can remain in the dark: the choice is yours.


Perhaps the most valuable, but simple, conclusion that sectionals provide is whether or not a race has been truly-run, which impacts on the reliability of the form, the emphasis on speed or stamina, and more besides.

This may be established in the fraction of a second it takes to click a stopwatch – not too onerous, even for those with an aversion to such things – but Total Performance Data figures in the Results Section of this site puts even this on a plate for you.

A race “finishing speed %” (speed at the end of a race as a % of speed for the race overall) neatly summarises a wealth of information and adjusts to conditions, such as when the surface was deteriorating, which happened at Windsor on Monday.

Windsor sectionals

If nothing else, if ordinary 5f handicaps are your thing, you know that Tawny Port was helped to a degree in coming from second-last by the leaders slowing late on. And you know this with certainty, and with precision, because a figure has been put on it.

There is a whole lot more you can do with the figures, should you choose to, but that alone is enough to justify sectional analysis and is an “easy win”. Don’t let anyone try to tell it isn’t.

Sectional Spotlight
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