It's Wednesday and time for another edition of Clock Watcher, a weekly roundup of interesting performances from a sectional timing perspective. In focus this week is an impressive middle distance newcomer to the Nottinghamshire beach; a perfect example of upgrades in action; and an explanation of the concept of OMC. Plus, a new column in your Gold form denoting sectional upgrades. Woof!
We start with a couple of noteworthy efforts on a deeper-than-normal Southwell circuit last Thursday. While geegeez.co.uk eyes were on Forseti, one of our syndicate horses, who was recording a double at the track, clock watchers were treated to a brace of striking efforts for contrasting reasons.
One for the All 'Weather'
The first was in a three-runner Class 3 three-year-old handicap over a mile, where Forseti's stablemate at Mick Appleby's yard, Merryweather, was given a peach from the front by Ali Rawlinson. Where he'd been patient aboard Forseti half an hour earlier, riding our lad efficiently and coming through late, here he took ownership of the pace, dictating a pedestrian overture.
Thereafter, Rawlinson and his willing partner turned the screw, accelerating markedly in the final three furlongs. His Topspeed figure of 45 is moderate but an upgrade of a whopping 43 gives him a composite score of a more than useful 88. This is a fine illustration of how understanding how the race was run in a more objective, granular manner gives us a handle on what might have otherwise been considered a muddling affair.
The race time was unimpressive - 1.1 seconds slower than Forseti in the preceding contest - but the finishing effort of all three runners, most obviously the winner, was rapid. That final three furlongs was completed in 35.53 seconds, compared with 39.69 for Forseti's closing three-eighths.
On a perennially stamina-sapping strip at its most testing, direct comparisons may be unfair; nevertheless, Merryweather - who was completing a hat-trick for her owners, The Horse Watchers, the last two at Southwell - remains one to keep on side.
Wind Breezes By
The very next race was a cracker: three Southwell specialists - Blowing Dixie, Angel Lane and Azari - lined up, the first named sent off the strong 4/6 favourite (and about that price, if not shorter, in my book). As it transpired, Dixie had five-and-a-half lengths and more on his field... with the exception of fibresand firster, Calling The Wind.
A winner twice on the Chelmsford speedway for Sir Mark Prescott in 2018, the son of Authorized changed hands last summer for £32,000, heading to Richard Hughes's yard. He was entitled to need his debut spin for the barn at the very end of last year, but showed a ready alacrity for this marmite surface, breezing alongside Blowing Dixie before moving decisively ahead. Calling The Wind achieved a decent Topspeed of 64 to which is added a strong sectional upgrade of 31 for an impressive composite of 95. He will be very hard to beat over this course and distance in a similar pace setup: that is the fastest course and distance composite score in our database by a full five points.
A Claim to Fame?
Nothing much to note in the novice ranks last week, but there was a fascinating claimer run at Lingfield on Friday. The finish was contested by the 6/5 favourite, Lets Go Lucky, and 5/2 second market choice, Hong Kong Dragon. They finished in that order, the pair most of five lengths clear of the rest, and with the second looking a little unlucky in the run.
That was how the 'judges' saw it, too, with no fewer than eight claims made for the runner up, including his (now former) trainer, George Scott, and fellow handlers Tony Carroll and Mick Appleby - plus at least one twitter shrewdie. He was secured for the claiming tag of £5,000 by Gareth Maule, whose runners mostly race with Christian Williams.
What was interesting about this contest is that they went very quickly early before a war of attrition - the winner being the one who slowed down the least - in the final section.
The sectional percentage 'by furlong' chart shows how closely matched the two protagonists were:
The red line is winner Lets Go Lucky, green is Hong Kong Dragon, and black is par, an expression of how to optimally run a race at this course and distance. Their composites are similar, with the winner getting a marginally higher speed rating and the runner-up a fractionally higher upgrade number. Both performed above expectation for the grade and it is a mystery - to me at least - how the second took eight claims where the winner took none!
What does it mean: OMC
Who doesn't love a bit of sectional jargon? (rhetorical)
And, as if there aren't enough new concepts and terms to get ones head around, we invented (at least) one more!
Say hello to OMC.
OMC stands for Opening, Midrace, Closing and is simply a means of splitting a race into a beginning, middle and end in order to better understand what happened and roughly when.
You can see from the trios of colour blobs above a chart how races have been run, and from the same colour blobs in the result itself (when the 'show sectionals' button has been clicked) how individual runners have divided their energies. Thus, the two claiming pugilists were involved in a race that was fast early, even in the middle and very slow late.
The notion of fast and slow in this context is based on the percentage of the race time spent in each section, compared with those percentages for all races run over the same course and distance.
This is important because it means we are not interested in the actual times. Rather, we are interested in the ratio of time spent in each part of the race, or section. Hopefully that makes some sort of sense because there's more.
The notion of fast and slow is also not a specific percentage but rather a comparison of the par percentage against this race's/runner's sectional percentage. So, in the claiming race example above, the O(pening) section had a sectional percentage of 101.9%. That is to say that it was completed pro rata in 101.9% of the overall race time; but that was fully 6% quicker as a sectional percentage than par for this course and distance, thus our algorithm deems it as FAST. [Remember that horses race from a standing start in the stalls and, thus, they need to go from 0 mph to their cruising speed, so we'd normally expect opening sections to be below 100%, depending on how long that opening section is.]
What you actually need to know
That's somewhere between obtuse and downright baffling for many, no doubt, so here's what you actually need to know.
If the blobs are green, a horse, or race (and its rider, or leaders) went evenly, using their energies sensibly across the spectrum of the distance.
Where the early blob is blue (slow), expect one or both of the later blobs to be orange/red (fast).
And vice versa: where early pace is fast (orange/red), as in the claimer example, expect the late sectional blob to be blue or possibly greenish.
Horses that finish fast are useful allies in subsequent races that look to be muddling in pace terms. Horses that can run evenly out back off faster than optimum tempos may be interesting closers in such pace setups, especially on the straight track at Newcastle. (These comments are mainly, though not exclusively, in relation to all weather racing).
A New Number on Gold
You've seen various references to upgrade figures in the above: they are the traceable heartbeat of sectional timing. They quantify objectively - notwithstanding that different scales of objectivity will find different numbers, as with xG in football - the extent to which a performance should be marked up.
There is no marking down with upgrades: a horse either ran efficiently, in which case it gets a zero, or it ran inefficiently. The less efficiently it ran, the bigger the upgrade figure.
Naturally, there are all sorts of nuances - such as horses that need to be ridden inefficiently (speedball frontrunners), but which can still win by making their rivals act even less optimally - which time and experience will help us figure out.
No data element, or group of data, is the panacea to solving the puzzle; but each new element enhances our understanding of the actors and our ability to quantify the value propositions before us. Sectional data, and upgrades, are clearly no different.
Here's how they look in your racecard once switched on, UP column right hand side:
And in the Full Form, this time with the 'Show Sectionals' option checked:
They also appear on the right of the Full Result a couple of days after the race, once we've received the information from our provider, Total Performance Data.
To switch sectional upgrade figures on, go to the Race Card Options section on your My Geegeez page, and check the box in the Ratings sub-section.
That's all for this week. I appreciate there's a lot to take in - for those who wish to - but the key is not necessarily to understand the mechanics; instead, focus on the utility: what is this stuff saying about what happened, and how does that inform me going forwards?
Often the answer is very little or nothing; frequently it is 'only' an empirical confirmation of that to which the peepers already alerted us; but occasionally these numbers switch us on to an effort far more positive than at first sight. That's the real juice.
By the end of the year, we'll all be more comfortable around these ideas, so take your time and dip your toe in when the urge takes you. Don't force it, no good comes of that. Oh, and please do ask questions. Here in the comments is best, so that other people might see the answers.
Thanks for reading, and good luck.