Sectional Timing: Does Time Only Matter When You’re in Jail?

The Racing Post first started carrying sectional times, produced by TurfTrax, in November 2007, but the regular use of sectional timing in Britain was abandoned less than a year later and, despite periodic attempts to resurrect it, has never really taken off in the same way as it has in other countries, such as Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and North America.

However, the reintroduction of sectional timing for the QIPCO British Champion Series, which incorporates the top 35 Flat races in the British horse racing calendar, is a step in the right direction. Consequently, we thought we’d have a look at what sectional times are, how they’re measured and, more importantly, how they can be used to identify profitable betting opportunities.


What are Sectional Times?

Sectional times are the times, in seconds, taken for a racehorse to cover the various sections of a racecourse, usually a furlong or two at a time, during a race. The overall time taken for a racehorse to run a race, compared with the standard time, is important, but fails to take in account the pace at different stages of the race. Sectional times, on the other hand, allow us to assess whether a race was run at an end-to-end gallop or developed into a sprint over the last few furlongs after a dawdling early pace.


How are Sectional Times Measured?

The TurfTrax Tracking System requires a small, lightweight radio frequency transmitter, or ‘tag’, to be placed in the saddlecloth of each horse. The tag transmits encrypted signals to network of fixed receivers positioned around the racecourse which, in turn, forward them to a central processing server via a local area network. The server applies a set of rules, or ‘algorithm’, to determine the location of each tag and, by reference to a surveyed model of the racecourse provides the sectional time of each horse as it progresses through the race.


How do Sectional Times Help?

Conventional wisdom dictates that the form of horse races run at an end-to-end gallop is more reliable than those that aren’t so, at a basic level, sectional times can provide a guide to how much faith to place in past performances on the racecourse. Essentially, sectional times reveal at what stage of a race a horse expending its energy and, hence, the effect of pace on its performance, whether it failed to stay or was simply outpaced and so on.


However, in Britain in particular, the variety of racecourses and racing surfaces dictates that, in order to exploit sectional times to their full potential, detailed data from individual racecourses is required. Even in the United States, where the majority of horse racing takes place on uniform, left-handed oval courses, raw sectional timing data needs plenty of interpretation. What constitutes an optimal sectional time, and what doesn’t, can only really be determined by comparison with previous sectional times over the same course and distance under the same conditions.


Ultimately, what we’re trying to do by analysing sectional times is determine how to, or how not to, run a race in order to achieve an economical, or optimal, overall time. It stands to reason that any horse expending energy in an uneconomical way will record a slower overall time than one that doesn’t, all other things being equal. However, with sectional timing data at our fingertips, it may be possible to identify horses that have recorded a decent overall time, despite racing in an uneconomical way for whatever reason. In this case, the implication is that the horse in question may be capable of significant improvement when allowed to adopt a more favourable racing style.


Sectional Timing Data


For anyone interested, sectional timing data collected by TurfTrax for all the races in the QIPCO British Champion Series in 2012 and 2013 is available, free of charge, in .pdf or .xls format here.


In fact, the sectional timing data collected on behalf of British Champion Series Limited and the participating racecourses provides an opportunity to compare the performances of two of the best European colts of recent years, Sea The Stars and Frankel. In 2009, Sea The Stars won the Juddmonte International Stakes at York, on good to firm going, in a course record time of 2m 5.29s. Three years later, Frankel covered the same 1 mile 2 furlongs and 88 yards on the Knavesmire, on the same going, in an overall time of 2m 6.59s or, in other words, 1.30 slower.


However, closer inspection of the sectional timing data reveals that for the last two furlongs, which he covered in 23.55 seconds, was travelling at 103.4% of his average speed throughout the race, while his nearest rivals, Farhh and St. Nicholas Abbey, were travelling much closer to 100% of theirs. The 2012 renewal was run at a sound pace throughout and, adjusting for conditions, including wind, Frankel’s performance was comfortably the better of the two, something that is not at all apparent from the respective overall times.


We hope you enjoyed ‘Sectional Timing: Does Time Only Matter When You’re in Jail?’ and we will be back soon with another advanced betting guide.