James Willoughby: Why sectional timing data matters in racing

Thu 11 Jul 2019

Racing TV's analyst James Willoughby explains why the use of the timing data should be part of every punter's armoury.

It is excellent news that RMG and Coursetrack have teamed up to provide sectional timing data on RMG racecourses – starting with this week’s Moet & Chandon July Festival.

Sectional timing provides horse racing with the kind of performance data now so common in other sports. At once, it enables the evidence so badly needed to turn the analysis of horse races from an art to a science.

Pace makes the race. Racehorses run best when their energy is used optimally; in most cases, this means the jockey must regulate their mount's effort as evenly as possible, taking into account the distance of the race and the bends and undulations of the track.

Coursetrack sectional times are recorded continuously through a race for each horse, using GPS technology to record its position at each instant. The analysis of the data is best accomplished by breaking down the resultant thousands of data points into discrete chunks or sections, then comparing the time spent in each of these sectionals of known length with those which represent the most efficient distribution of energy.

Of particular interest is the end of the race. Over every course and distance, there is a signature split for the final two or three furlongs which represents an even finish by the horse. When a horse’s actual time varies from this, we may infer it has run less than efficiently. This comes at a cost to its time for the race as a whole.

When a horse dominates one section of the race – and that section is the fastest part of the race – it stands to reason that it should have won. Many times, however, this will not be the case. The analyst using sectionals then has vital evidence that the best horse according to theory did not win in practice, which can be highly valuable information, especially for betting purposes in future.

Races are not won in steady and predictable fashion. Instead, victory and defeat are the result of the many ‘races within a race’ - the punch-and-counterpunch of thoroughbred competition - which are often undetectable, even to the most experienced race-reader.

Sectionals provide this evidence to the user, and they help to put the many different opinions which sometimes flow after a race into their proper context.

Horse racing is thoroughbred athletics. When humans run and jump, it is unthinkable that we would not measure their lap times and finishing speeds. Yet, the sport of horse racing in Britain has been existing in a benighted state for too long in this regard.

It is time to measure, not to guess. It is time for analysis, not for just opinion.

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