Sectional Spotlight

Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands shortlists runners to follow that recently caught the eye on the clock and has fancies in action at Chepstow and Newmarket on Friday evening.

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A couple of recent announcements will have heartened those of us who wish to see better use of data prompting new and intriguing insights in horseracing.

In yesterday’s Racing Post, the British Horseracing Authority’s CEO Nick Rust concluded a notably upbeat appraisal of the sport’s future with the remark “there are a number of things we can do in making more information available in terms of introducing sectional timing and tracking, which can provide the environment for additional bets”.

Additional bets” seems more likely to cover in-running betting, in which traditional bookmakers will be able to offer prices with much greater confidence of what is going on than is the case currently, rather than novelty bets on fastest furlongs or halfway leaders. But we shall see.

It is certainly welcome news that British racing aims to take sectional timing more seriously in a better-funded future than has been the case to date. Those who have familiarised themselves with sectionals – such as through the detailed TPD data on this site – will be at an advantage when that happens.

Then there was a remark nearer to home from ATR’s Director of New Media and Innovation, Matthew Taylor, on Twitter (where he posts as @WestTip1986) that “Stride Data Is Coming”. His pinned Tweet illustrates graphically – and enticingly! – what may be in store.

This is truly pioneering stuff. A horse’s speed is a direct product of the length of its stride and the frequency with which that stride gets turned over, and a better understanding of the mechanics involved promises to reveal aspects of performance that have been largely unexplored.

My own work on striding has been limited to date, but I suspect that stride length is most associated with “class” and stride frequency (or “cadence”) is more associated with speed/stamina and suitability to topography/surface.

A basic study of TPD striding test data at a couple of ordinary meetings showed that the winners’ maximum cadence averaged 2.525 strides per second at 5f/6f, 2.416 at 7f/8f and 2.367 at 10f plus. Average maximum stride length of winners scarcely varied from 24.5 feet across all distances (but might well have done if considering horses with a greater range of abilities). Fibresand involved shorter striding than turf.

It may soon be possible to spot which horses bear the hallmarks of those likely to be significantly better, or worse, under circumstances different to those on which they have so far been tried. This is unlikely to replace more “traditional” ways of gauging such things but will complement them. ATR continues to lead the way.

That is not to say that sectionals will cease to be important: far from it. How quickly a horse gets from A to B is still what matters most, even if other features may enhance our understanding and assist in description and prediction.

The following are some of the more interesting TPD sectional performances since the last Sectional Spotlight a fortnight ago.

RED GUNNER (17 July) earned the close-up comment “always towards rear” but actually managed to beat as many as beat him in a 7f handicap at Wolverhampton, closing late having got a long way back in a race run at just a fair pace (ran comfortably the fastest furlong of the race at 11.2s). Not long with David O’Meara, the three-year-old looks to be circling back into form.

CAMINO (19 July) got behind in a 5f handicap in which the winner was able to set even fractions after a slowish opening 1f but finished to good effect to be a close second (clocked successive sub-11.0s furlongs). She operates at the lowest level but gives the impression there is another win around the corner.

EASY CODE (22 July) was an expensive loser at Lingfield but arguably ran better than the result in a race which turned into something of a slog (race finishing speed of just 93.9%). The William Haggas-trained gelding is a lot lower in the handicap than he once was and is worth one last chance.

FUJAIRA PRINCE (24 July) could be a gelding with a bright future after a debut second at Windsor which was backed up by some strong sectionals (under 36.0s for last 3f on rain-softened ground). A half-brother by Pivotal to the Stayers’ Hurdle winner Nichols Canyon, this 10f is most unlikely to be the limit of his stamina.

There is some good racing over the next few days, not least at Ascot on Saturday. But winners may be easier to come by away from the limelight, such as at Friday’s evening cards at Chepstow and Newmarket.

PEACH MELBA makes a quick return to Wales in the 6:50 at the former course, having been a good second at Ffos Las on Tuesday, and should be able to dominate more easily here with just four rivals having been declared, none of them previously a front-runner.

The Mark Johnston-trained three-year-old is fancied to go one better this time.

NOBLEMAN’S NEST was flagged up in this column after a highly promising debut at Doncaster early this month, when he was beaten just a nose by Wasim (has run respectably since) and ran a sharp 34.7s for the last 3f.

He goes in the 6:40 at Newmarket, and the newcomers Desert Mountain (Saeed bin Suroor) and Exprompt (Hugo Palmer) will have to be well above average to trouble the Simon Crisford-trained selection judged on the impression he made that day.

Sectional Spotlight
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