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Clock Watcher: Lessons from Harrovian

After an extended pandemic break, Clock Watcher is back! This semi-regular feature aims to highlight interesting performances from a sectional timing perspective. Before we dive into those noteworthy efforts, a quick recap to set the scene.

Sectional Recap

Sectional timing aims to tell us more about how a race was run by splitting it up into segments, or sections. Moreover, we can understand more about an individual horse's performances from these splits as well; and, by comparing with history - what we call 'par' - we can frame races and runs in a much broader historical context.

The idea is to note those horses who may have been inconvenienced either by the run of the race or how they themselves ran within it, and to 'mark up' such efforts for consideration in future. Such mark ups are one more piece of the puzzle: often they'll add little or nothing, but occasionally they are the significant differentiator. Our job as form detectives is to assimilate information from which to make value judgements. Sectional information is another piece of evidence to consider in the general form evaluation case, if you feel so inclined.

Thus, on the basis of a number of previous races over a given course and distance, we can have a reasonable idea of what the optimal energy expenditure might be. A marathon runner will look to run every one of the 26 and a bit miles in a very similar time because that is the way she uses her energy most efficiently and therefore runs her best time.

Because of the configuration of racecourses and races - standing start, bends, undulations, obstacles in jumps races - the shape of a par line will never be flat; instead it will have a curve that intrinsically accommodates all appropriate considerations. It will, in other words, enable us to gauge what happened in any given race against the body of directly relevant 'case law' that preceded it.

There is oodles more insight on how geegeez.co.uk publishes these data in our user guide, here.

What are we looking for?

What we are looking for might vary from race to race, situation to situation. But, more helpfully, two obvious things to spot are fast finishers and solid composite numbers.

Fast finishers are those runners whose closing splits, when compared to their overall time in percentage terms, were quicker. This is often called a finishing speed percentage (or FS%), and a high relative FS% implies a horse finished with more in the tank, more to give. That suggests he might go better next time.

Composite ratings are an attempt to consider FS% alongside the actual speed of a race. After all, if I walk the first 26 miles of a marathon over most of a day, my ability to run the last 385 yards will be far superior to even the best athlete who has run the previous 26 miles at world record pace. My finishing speed percentage will be massive but my overall time - and therefore any attempt at combining final time and finishing speed - will betray how easily I took things earlier on.

That's an outlandishly exaggerated example to emphasise the point that horse races are habitually run steadily and won by the runner with the best combination of track position and finishing speed. Furthermore, not only can we know through sectionals which horse(s) has/have the best finishing kick but we can also overlay that knowledge onto how we perceive today's race will set up.

A horse with a lightning kick may be severely compromised by a strong early gallop but could be a fantastic bet in a paceless heat.

Sectional Examples

Examples make everything more comprehensible, so let's look at a few events since racing returned post-lockdown.

Palace Pier / Pinatubo - St James's Palace Stakes

I'll begin with a fairly banal one - insofar as punting utility goes - but one that very well illustrates the two elements we seek, the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

This was the race in which Palace Pier announced himself on the big stage, charging past last year's champion juvenile, Pinatubo, and the controlling race leader, Wichita.

The three-part OMC (Opening, Midrace, Closing) sectionals image below shows the extent to which they quickened in the final quarter mile (the orange/red rectangles) with the upgrade column on the right hand side attempting to quantify how much more each might have been able to give.

The colour bar above the result table contains the 'race' sectionals: those of the race leader at the end of each section (in this case, at the six-furlong pole, the two-furlong pole, and the finish line). The bars inline are for each individual runner.

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This slightly more detailed five-part 'Call Points' view illustrates things further:

 

Here we can see that Palace Pier covered the final two furlongs in splits of 11.68 seconds and 11.71 seconds. That was partly a function of the (relatively) steady first three-quarters of the race but mainly it relates to his talent.

Pinatubo, for his part, has looked to me a slightly doubtful stayer at a mile, particularly in the context of his brilliant two-year-old form. He was quickest from four to one but couldn't quite see it out. A subsequent win in a seven-furlong Group 1 in France last time supports the theory, though not beyond reasonable doubt. The Breeders' Cup Mile, a race contested around a tight oval track where seven-furlong speed is ideal (think Expert Eye), looks a perfect target.

Palace Pier's Topspeed figure for this effort was 108 and relates to how quickly he got from the start to the finish. Alpine Star, the filly who won the Coronation Stakes over the same course and distance 35 minutes earlier, ran a far more even tempo and recorded a slightly faster overall time to be awarded a 110 Topspeed figure.

But Palace Pier's composite rating - a combination of Topspeed and our Upgrade of 23 - brings him to 131. Alpine Star's effort received no upgrade and therefore remains on 110.

Here's the rub: in a steadily-run race, a feature of both his runs this year, all evidence suggests Palace Pier would readily outpoint Alpine Star. But if it was likely to be more truly-run I'd be less bullish at the likely odds.

One of the main problems, as can be seen below, is that there remains - more than a year after RMG (the company in charge of Racing TV's racecourses' broadcast rights) first published data for a meeting at York - no publicly available sectional output for the roughly two-thirds of British tracks that they cover. I wish it wasn't this way, and I yearn for good news on this front soon.

A Spot of Revision for Harrovian

Another of the John Gosden phalanx of top-class equines is Harrovian, who caught the eye when winning in taking fashion at Doncaster over a mile and a quarter on 26th June. He, and second placed Archie Perkins, were almost five lengths clear of the third that day, a gap established exclusively in the final quarter mile.

I've included the 'by furlong' sectional percentage chart this time: this view helps to understand how a runner's energy was expended and can be compared to the par line - which is grey in this case due to the limited confidence afforded by only 73 races in the course and distance sample. Beneath the chart I've also included the OMC splits for Harrovian and Archie Perkins.

 

Note on the chart how the red and green lines, representing the selected runners, run close to the dark grey par line until half way (five out, 6-5 on the chart); and how they then extend away in the second half of the race. This tells us that the highlighted runners ran close to optimally (though a little slower in the first two furlongs (S-9, 9-8)) in the early stages before finishing well.

One of the reasons I chose this example is because both horses have again run in the same race since, Saturday's John Smith's Cup. Although there are no official sectionals for that race, they looked to go quite fast early (as might be expected for a 22-runner heritage handicap), which may not have suited either Archie or Harrovian.

Here is the Gosden runner's full form profile:

 

Compare that with his winning form profile, and with sectional data switched on (the box top left):

 

All three of his career wins have come at ten furlongs, on good to firm ground, and in small fields. Of the two of that trio for which we have sectional insight, both featured fast finishing fractions off even to slow earlier meters. I'll be very interested in Harrovian when he gets this kind of setup again.

 

Yarmouth Upgrades

There have been a few races of interest run at Yarmouth since the resumption. Its proximity to Newmarket is a factor in enticing very good horses, and here are two I think worthy of note.

The first of the pair was a juvenile on debut called Yazaman, who achieved the biggest geegeez upgrade figure of any horse since racing resumed (at the tracks covered by our data supplier, Total Performance Data). Ostensibly not much of a race, Yazaman was sent off 10/11 favourite in a field of four.

They went pedestrian fractions in the early part of the five furlong contest but then engaged turbo, as best as unraced juveniles can.

William Haggas's winner completed the last quarter mile in less than 21 seconds, which is really very fast indeed, especially for a juvenile debutant.

To some degree this is now ancient history, as Yazaman has run twice subsequently: first he was a gallant second in the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot. Sent off 20/1 that day, the cat was subsequently out of the bag when he again ran up, at 6/1 this time, to Tactical in the Group 2 July Stakes at  Newmarket's big summer meeting.

He's rapid and a drop back to five should see him just about win in minor Pattern company.

On 4th July, another two-year-old, this time Ventura Tormenta trained by Richard Hannon, rocked up having been pitched in to none other than the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes on his debut. He ran a huge race there to be sixth, and had plenty in reserve when turning away Sidi Mansour and four others over six this day. As can be seen from the running lines below, Ventura controlled things throughout: an even opening quarter, a steady to slow middle quarter, and then a burst of acceleration and 'eat my dust'.

He didn't seem to get home on the July course over seven furlongs in Newmarket's Superlative Stakes but has since confirmed his class by winning the 6f Group 2 Prix Robert Papin last weekend. English-trained horses finished first and second there, French horses comprising the rest of the field, to affirm my (and many others', in point of fact) contention that French racing has lagging behind a little for a season and a half or so.

Second to Ventura Tormenta at Yarmouth, Sidi Mansour has run since and been beaten in a bigger field at Windsor. But, having covered the final half mile at the Norfolk track in the same time (46.70 seconds) as Sunday's Group 2 winner, he may go one better in a small field where he can put his pace to good use.

Looking Forward

There may be a case to answer from the after-time police regarding the above, even if a number of those highlighted have since been beaten and are suggested for another day. With no such subsequent form here is one more, at a slightly lower level, for the future.

The Yarmouth fillies' novice event won by Almareekh might work out all right: the winner has an entry at Doncaster on Saturday and the third, Viola, may run in a handicap at Redcar next Monday. But it is the fourth placed filly, Ice Sprite, who has made my tracker.

This was her second career start, and first of the season, and the William Haggas-trained daughter of Zoffany was a long way (15 lengths to be precise) behind the leader with half a mile to go. More materially, she was between three and six lengths behind the three fillies that eventually beat her at that same point.

 

As can be seen from the red bars in her result row, Ice Sprite made a big move between the four and the two, and ran the final quarter (24.01 seconds) quicker than all bar the winner (23.95 seconds). Eased off in the last fifty yards, each way backers may have felt miffed that she was beaten a diminishing neck for third; but she looks attractively rated off just 70 for a potential handicap tilt next time. With only two starts to her name, there are all sorts of reasons to believe she can do better in upcoming spins. She is entered in the 3.20 at Newmarket on Friday.

Clock Watcher: King of the SANaaDh?

After a short hiatus where, in truth, not much of note was happening across the courses our sectional data covers, Clock Watcher is back. In this week's instalment, I'll share the top performer in his Newcastle seven furlong peer group; a win machine who arguably ran her best race in recent defeat; and the first in a new sub-feature, Pick of the Pile, where we look at the top sectional performers over a specific course and distance.

Sanaadh a King of the Sand

We start with the outstanding performance of the week from a combo (time figure plus upgrade) perspective, that of Michael Wigham's Sanaadh in a valuable Class 2 handicap on Newcastle's straight track. The image below shows Sanaadh's performance (red line) against par (black line), with more detail in the result table beneath the graph. Waited with early, Sanaadh was a nine length last at the first call (five furlongs from home) and was still only 11th of 14 with a quarter mile to run; but from there he quickened up smartly - last two furlongs in 22.73 seconds - to record a narrow neck verdict.

Topspeed awarded him a rating of 77 to which a sectional upgrade of 18 is added (see right hand column in the results table), for a combo figure of 95. That is, by some margin, the biggest time/upgrade figure we've seen over Newcastle's seven furlong piste since TPD started tracking there 285 7f races ago.

Sanaadh's overall all-weather profile is rock solid but he looks a better horse on the straight track at Gosforth Park, where his record reads 141, the '4' being when given too much to do.

That's the nature of his hold up run style so there is always the chance of a frustrating 'should have won' effort; but there's little doubt about Sanaadh's ability. He's one to follow.

In his other all weather runs, he hung left at Wolverhampton on his sole try there, and was pulled up at Lingfield on his only spin there. He did also win at Kempton, so it might be that he just doesn't want to go left-handed - I'd be prepared to take that chance if he rocked up at Sunbury in the near future.

Agent Due More Fortune?

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When Christine Dunnett sent her then four-year-old mare, Agent Of Fortune, to the Newmarket Autumn Sales she must have felt that there was nothing more to be gained from the three-time winner of the previous year.

Nobody turned a hair as Gary Moore's hand waved the winning bid at a lowly 3,000 guineas, and six weeks later the 50-rated Agent lined up in a Classified Stakes at Lingfield for which she was sent off 7/4. Clearly the vibes were good - not 'arf - as that was the first leg of a December hat-trick.

January's five runs yielded another three wins, and February has added one further victory to the score sheet. With a remarkable seven wins on the board, and now rated 83, it would be reasonable to assume that Agent Of Fortune's winning has come to an end. But in fact there is an argument that her most recent spin, when third to Crimewave over a mile and a quarter at Lingfield, was her best yet.

Bred for a mile, this was her first attempt at a longer distance and she was ridden to get the trip, finishing with gusto to be a length and a quarter behind the winner. The image below shows the respective furlong-by-furlong distance behind the leader of the winner (Crimewave, red line) and Agent Of Fortune (violet line) and needs little explanation.

Her 22 upgrade figure is added to a Topspeed rating of 54 for a composite 76. Most effective when patiently ridden, she is drawn 10 of 14 tonight up in class and it might be that she has to wait until Saturday and an engagement at Lingfield before returning to winning ways if lining up there as well.

Regardless of tonight or Saturday or another day, it will be a shock to me if Agent Of Fortune doesn't add to her seven wins already this winter before the spring arrives. What a remarkable buy!

Pick of the Pile: Lingfield AW 6f

In the first of a new mini-feature, Pick of the Pile looks at the sectional/time ratings of all runners over a give course and distance. We start with the six furlong range at Lingfield, where the best performance was recorded in the 2017 All Weather Championships 3yo Conditions Stakes.

The William Haggas-trained Second Thought won six of his seven all weather starts, beaten only on his final run when narrowly failing to double his AW Finals tally, placing second over a mile.

The son of Kodiac came from a long way back in that 3yo Championship race, leaving those contesting a fast early pace (see top colour line for the race speed) and rattling past his rivals in the final furlong where he made up 3 1/2 lengths and five places.

 

The most noteworthy recent performance at this track and trip was produced by Harry's Bar, who quickened well off fair fractions on 15th February in a race which will become infamous for the very sad demise of the talented and extremely likeable Kachy. Harry is a tough and consistent all weather sprinter, his form string off turf reading 23111323131.

The Proximity Form column (Px) shows just how consistent with every dot being a green one. (For more on Proximity Form, check out page 40 in the latest version of the User Guide)

 

That's all for this edition of Clock Watcher. Tune in next week for more meritorious performances and sectional insights. In the meantime, if you've any questions, please do add a comment below and I'll be sure to get back to you.

Matt

Clock Watcher: Some Breeze from Wind

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:

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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.

Matt

Clock Watcher: Keep Kaser Onside

Welcome to week three of the Clock Watcher feature, illustrating performances of interest from a sectional timing perspective. Geegeez Gold has a range of sectional data to assist curious bettors, including sectional percentages, finishing speed percentages, and running lines: we'll discuss the last named in more detail in this article. But first, a few races and runners whose efforts can be marked up from the bare ratings.

King Kaser A Keeper

The David Loughnane-trained Kaser is hardly a dark horse, having won five of his 15 - and three of his last five - all-weather starts, but the five-year-old still looks to be progressive based on the way he finished in his most recent victory. That one, like the other four, was achieved at Wolverhampton and, like three of the other quartet, over the extended nine furlongs.

A feature of this win, in a Class 3 handicap on 13th January, was his ability to quicken off a fairly steady gallop. Indeed that is the hallmark of all five of his wins, most notably in his penultimate run where he went from last to first in the final furlong and a half (making up more than six lengths off an even gallop!), an attribute which makes it hard for the handicapper to accurately peg his ability: since August last year he's won four times, starting off 75 then 78, 83 and 85. Now on a career high mark of 88 he may not be done yet, especially over that nine-and-a-half furlong range at Wolverhampton.

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Novice to note: Tommy De Vito

It was a quieter week on the novice stakes front, with no Waldkonig's nor even a Union about which to eulogise. Nevertheless, Tommy De Vito, no relation to Danny, caught the eye when sprinting away from his rivals over six furlongs on Newcastle's straight track.

The chart shows how closely matched he and second-placed Never Dark were through the middle of the race before Tommy, red line, opens up, his final furlong almost half a second quicker than the odds-on favourite (see individual times inline below chart).

This performance represented progress from his debut second, over the same course and distance, where he again made a big move off a slow pace two from home before flattening out a little in the final furlong. He should step forward again and it will be interesting to see where he heads next.

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What of Wanaasah?

Much was made of Wanaasah's all the way victory last Wednesday at Wolves, mainly because of the manner with which it was achieved. The running lines are unambiguous:

In this two mile race, we can see that Dylan Hogan was 16 lengths clear after half a mile (S-12 1,16). But the second horse, Fearless Warrior, was also clear of the third. Indeed, with a mile to go - 12-8 running lines - favourite Purdey's Gift was 47 lengths - FORTY-SEVEN - behind the leader.

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The issue here is that, although Hogan went reasonably quick in the first quarter of the race, he then steadied things up quite a bit, leaving enough in the tank to comfortably repel his never-sighted rivals.

Georgia Dobie deserves some credit for sitting somewhat closer to the leader; but the rest of the riders got a beasting from Hogan here, the third-placed horse finishing 16.5L (officially, more like 18 lengths) behind the winner.

Amid the all-too-predictable cries of "hang 'em out to dry" from the kangaroo courts of social media, it should be borne in mind that a) this was an apprentice race where, by definition, riders are inexperienced, and b) this was a most unconventional setup over a trip which probably requires more tactical awareness than shorter races.

I'm personally of the view that the winning jockey deserves praise for his enterprise, the second should be recognised for being alive to the situation, and the rest will learn from this contest. That, after all, is the main point of apprentice races.

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Follow Fizzy Feet's Foes

The 11th January, ten days ago, was a meeting for which the sectional data arrived to us a little tardily. Pity, as there were a couple of noteworthy sectional skirmishes on the Lingfield card that day, which are belatedly reviewed below.

First up, Fizzy Feet notched a good win in typical jump-and-run fashion. Representing the same Loughnane/Lowe/Hoyland connections as Kaser, Fizzy Feet dictated from the front and lasted out in this six-furlong Class 3 handicap. But the placed horses must be wondering what might have been as all of the second, fourth and fifth were given too much to do; again, in fairness, this was probably more about the Kingscote masterclass, bossing steady fractions and kicking at the right moment, than any major clangers in behind.

But each of Total Commitment, Lady Dancealot and Count Otto - perhaps even Second Collection - might have won this on another day. Third placed Typhoon Ten, under David Probert, was given what might be considered a slightly more optimal ride, the horse ultimately not good enough to either dictate the pace or quicken in the circumstances.

Count Otto has run once since, finishing runner up in a race he tried - uncharacteristically but as a result of it being paceless - to dominate from the start.

I'll be watching this cohort closely in the coming weeks.

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Silent May Be Golden, So Too Goring

On the same card, a Class 2 mile handicap went the way of Silent Attack, resisting the strong challenge of Goring. Bought for just £10,000 at the Ascot August sale last year, the ex-Godolphin seven-year-old picked up very nearly twelve grand for this score alone, a fine piece of opportunism by trainer Tony Carroll.

This time I've highlighted the early pace-setter, Red Mist (light blue line), who faded to a long last, as well as the winner (red line). Ben Curtis, runaway leader of the all-weather jockeys' championship, was always in the right place here: tracking the favourite in a length or two second, he took control before the quarter mile pole and readily held off the late-charging Goring.

Both Silent Attack and Goring look highly capable at this level when the early tempo is steady, as does third-placed Ultimate Avenue, who came from further back and could never really land a blow. The trio all recorded sub-22-second final quarters.

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What Does It Mean: Running Lines

A feature of every American formbook, as well as many others around the world, running lines in the UK have hitherto been confined to greyhound racing only. Historically, the main reason for that was the lack of availability of data. But Total Performance Data's accurate tracking of all horses' positions throughout a race has enabled us to display both the horse's race position and its distance behind the leader (or in front in the case of the race leader).

How running lines look on American racecards

How running lines look on American racecards

We could provide this information on a 'by furlong' basis, but have instead adopted an American style 'points of call' (or POC) approach. This breaks races into five sections, the first of which always begins at the start of the race and the last of which always ends at the finish line. Unlike American POC, where there is more focus on the home straight - something which largely relates to the concentration of race distances of around a mile and shorter - we have elected to divide the sections somewhat more evenly, as can be seen from the table below.

What do running lines tell us? They can tell us things like run style preferences, or how much ground a horse made up and, approximately, when. They can help us piece together a pace map. They can help us better understand, largely at a glance, what happened to a horse in a race. Of course, they lack nuance with regards to things like trouble in running or wide trips, but so too does any data-driven snapshot approach. If you want the real fine detail, watch the replays! [But even then, don't trust your eyes exclusively; rather, corroborate/refute the visuals with the data]

Here's an example of a horse running today with a pronounced run style: Warrior's Valley is a one-dimensional speedball. He wants to get out first and try to stay in front. On days when the race lacks pace contention he has his best chance, all other things being equal. He has stall one this afternoon, and only one other likely pace horse; as he slowly drops down the weights his day ought to be close when he gets the run of things.Perhaps it might be today.

 

With Geegeez Gold running lines, hovering over the performance in question reveals more 'traditional' information. Here's an example, taken from Warrior's Valley's run on 21st December 2019. The blue box tells us the jockey, position/field size, distance won/beaten, winner/second, [odds], weight carried, equipment, and in-running comment.

 

As a completely new convention to most, it may take some getting used to, but running lines offer far more granularity on a horse's race position than the in-running comments generally do. The optimum, of course, is to use them in tandem such that any 'bad trip' incidents noted in the comment can be factored in.

*

That's all for this week's Clock Watcher. I hope there was something of interest in the above and, if you've any questions, do leave a comment below. I'll be happy to answer them.

Matt

p.s. a gentle reminder that there is much more intel on sectionals - and how they're laid out on geegeez.co.uk - in the User Guide. Click here to download the latest version.

Clock Watcher: Rise for National Anthem

Welcome to a new weekly feature, Clock Watcher, where we'll shine a light on a few horses that might be interesting to follow from a speed and/or sectional perspective. It is my hope that this column will also serve to introduce, embed and reinforce various concepts which may be unfamiliar at this stage.

Generally speaking, a run considered of sufficient merit to appear here will have two components: the horse will have recorded a time which is at least reasonably quick for the conditions; and the horse will have recorded a noteworthy upgrade on that performance.

The first component is fairly self-explanatory even if defining what is "at least reasonably quick" is highly subjective. Geegeez.co.uk doesn't currently produce its own speed ratings (and there is no plan for that to change at this stage), so for our purposes we will use Racing Post's Topspeed figures, which are published under license on this site.

The second component requires a bit more introduction. What is an 'upgrade', how does a horse achieve one, and how is this quantified?

What is an upgrade?

Track and field athletes run at their most efficient level - enabling them to produce their fastest times - when they travel at a constant speed. For instance, when Kenenisa Bekele broke the 5000m world record in 2004, a record which still stands today, his 1000m split times - or sectional times - were as follows:

12:37.35 (2:33.24, 2:32.23, 2:31.87, 2:30.59, 2:29.42)

Let's tabulate that:

A few months later, in the Olympic 5000m final, they covered the first 4 kilometres in 648.62 seconds, almost 41 seconds slower than the world record pace. Bekele, overwhelming favourite for gold, was readily out-sprinted and had to settle for silver, the winner recording a final time of 794.39 seconds, 37 seconds slower than the world record.

In a race where they crawled (relatively) and then sprinted, Bekele was unable to produce his best form. He could not run inefficiently to the same effect as his vanquisher, the Olympic 1500m champion Hicham El Guerrouj, whose superior kick facilitated his victory.

We know what is 'efficient' based on the body of similar historical races, and we call this par.

In simple terms, any deviation from efficiency - or par - whether fast early then fading, or slow early with a rapid finish, earns an upgrade. Thus, in this case, both the winner and second - as well, indeed, as the third through to sixth placed finishers - would have received upgrade figures.

An upgrade, then, is a recognition of the degree to which a horse raced inefficiently.

It should be noted that racing inefficiently will not necessarily prevent a horse, or an athlete, from winning. Indeed, El Guerrouj 'got the run of the race' back in 2004, that slow time suiting his questionable stamina but stronger kick. The primary objective is, after all, not to break records but to win the race.

What about par?

There is more detail in the User Guide around what may be new terms to some readers, and I'd encourage you to check that document (page 63 onwards in the current version, click here).

However, for the purposes of expediency, a quick line on par here. Par is the threshold against which all subsequent races over a course and distance are measured. From the User Guide,

Par is an assessment of the optimal energy distribution – based on relative time – between the sections of a race. It is not an average of all sectional times. Rather, it follows a fairly complex formula which uses an ‘nth percentile’ race as par. Further information can be found in Simon Rowlands’ excellent Sectional Timing Introduction report, available at this link. Indeed, that document is highly recommended for anyone keen to get a head start with the applications of sectional information.

So, in simple terms, par is a baseline, a means by which we may better understand the context of a performance.

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Let's look at some examples.

 

An obvious one...

We'll start with a sore thumb, a horse on everyone's radar regardless of whether via visuals, sectionals or form. The very well related Waldkonig made his debut in a run-of-the-mill Wolverhampton novice stakes for two-year-olds on 7th December. A Kingman half-brother to Arc winner Waldgeist, he was sent off 6/4 favourite over the extended mile trip.

In the end, he won by nine widening lengths; the data offer some interesting footnotes to that emphatic victory.

 

There is a lot going on in this image, so let's take it step by step. First up, note that I have selected 'Call Points' (a five section breakdown) top left and I have clicked the 'Show Chart' button, which then changes colour and displays 'Hide Chart', the action that would happen upon a further click. So those are my selected parameters. (I also have the data view selected from my My Geegeez page, check the User Guide for more on that).

Beneath the blue buttons is a line of five coloured rectangles. These are the Call Points sectionals for the race. That is, they relate to the race leader at five points during the race, specifically the six-furlong, four-furlong, three-furlong, two-furlong and finishing posts.

The colour of the rectangles indicates the relative speed of each section, on a cold/slow/blue to hot/fast/red scale. Thus, this race was even (green) early, slow (blue) in the middle, and fast (orange) late. The OMC (Opening, Midrace, Closing) view below captures this more succinctly and is a better place for newbies to start, due to there being fewer data points.

Getting back to the main image, and the main part of it, we see a chart. This chart is highly configurable but the image shows the default, which is the sectional percentage data, by furlong, for the winner - and with the black par line also displayed. Any/all runners can be added or removed to/from the chart by clicking their name underneath or using the 'toggle' button top left.

Next to the toggle button is a statement of how many races comprise the par calculations and, therefore, the degree of confidence in par. In this case - indeed in the vast majority of all-weather race cases - confidence is high. At this stage, confidence is more limited elsewhere while the body of data grows as more races are run over various courses and distances.

The chart reflects what the coloured rectangles are saying: that the leader went even-ish (slightly above par) early, slowed up notably in the middle of the race, before finishing very strongly - well above the black par line.

Beneath the chart is the full result table, which has a familiar look to it. I have clicked on the winner's finishing position (i.e. on the text that says '1st') to reveal his sectional data - coloured rectangles for Call Points (including split times, aggregates time, and sectional time as a percentage of overall time, i.e. sectional percentage), running lines (the horse's position in the field and distance behind the leader, or in front if the race leader) - and in-running comment.

The rightmost column in the result table is 'UP', and it contains the upgrade figure. In this example, Waldkonig was calculated as having an upgrade of 29 by our algorithm. Again, in terms of quantifying ability, this tells us little more than that, like his father, Waldkonig is able to quicken impressively off a steady pace.

Waldkonig was given a Topspeed rating of 47 for his time performance in the race. That is far from a standout rating and would not highlight the horse's effort as noteworthy, though of course the nine length winning margin would be missed by nobody. By applying the upgrade figure to a representation of the time performance we get closer to an understanding of the merit of the effort: clearly it takes more ability to quicken off a fast pace than a slow one, with the degree to which a horse quickens also worthy of note.

We've been playing with combining various numbers to produce some sort of 'composite' time/performance rating, though I must declare at this stage that I'm not 100% certain that adding upgrades to Topspeed is a sensible thing to do.

We are currently trying to establish whether it improves the predictive ability of the raw speed figure: they are calculated on different scales so it is probably not entirely sensible to simply add the two together.

Nevertheless, there is some indication in the work done to date that this somewhat contrived 'combo' number has merit. In the case of Waldkonig, his 47 gets an extra 29 for a 76 overall. That is a better reflection of his performance, though probably not of his ability given this was a debut on a track that was likely not ideal. In any case, what it tells us unequivocally is that, in a race where the pace scenario looks muddling, Waldkonig is capable of a searing turn of foot.

 

A (slightly) less obvious one...

At a slightly less 'could be anything' level, trainer David Brown rewarded his and connections' patience when National Anthem, off the track for 417 days since running poorly at the same venue, blasted home in a six-furlong novice event at Southwell. Brown is the horse's third trainer in three career starts spanning 821 days and a wind operation!

Sent off at 15/2, fifth favourite of six but not completely unfancied, his performance was very different in sectional terms to that of Waldkonig, as the image below illustrates:

 

Here we see from the running line that National Anthem jumped very alertly and maintained that advantage, albeit that it was diminishing in the final furlong. He was better than four lengths in front after a furlong and fully nine lengths clear with an eighth to go. Little wonder that he tired close home. Also little wonder that he's entered over five furlongs at the same track on Monday where it will be very interesting to see how he goes in a handicap off a mark of 75, if taking up his engagement.

 

Far more speculatively...

Meanwhile, down in the basement, a horse called Disruptor might pop up at a price some time soon. He ran on 30th December at Lingfield, finishing third, and as can be seen from the below he ran an almost polar opposite race to par - based on the five Call Point sections:

 

This lad has had a few goes - twelve, including one since, to be precise - and has showed much improved form when leading or racing prominently recently. Prior to his run on Monday, where his inexperienced (14 rides) jockey shot up in the air as the stalls opened and then got sandwiched between two no-hopers for most of a furlong, he'd run his three best races from the front.

If/when he can get a slightly softer advantage - note the undesirable red zone section from five to four in his running data above - he has a chance to see his race out more effectively, albeit very likely in low grade company and with a more experienced pilot on top.

That said, looking more closely at the draw (DR) column below, it is worth noting that he has been consistently fortunate with his stall position in recent starts.

[NB note also that, in 'Show Sectionals' mode, races without sectionals have blanks. Hovering over the running lines segment displays details of the performance, including comments, position, distance beaten and jockey].

 

That's all for this inaugural edition of Clock Watcher. I hope it has provided food for thought and that, over time, it will support your understanding of the new data we are beginning to provide and how you might best take advantage of it for yourself.

Until next time...

Matt

p.s. as of Wednesday 8th January, sectional data is now live for Gold subscribers on geegeez.co.uk. You will need to enable it from the Race Card Options section of your My Geegeez page. On that page, you will also find a link to the most recent version of the User Guide, in which there is a comprehensive outline of sectional timing and how it is published on this site.

The current coverage comprises Total Performance Data tracks, as it is from them that we license our data. We hope to be able to integrate both Ascot and RTV (UK) tracks in due course. To be clear, we have no in house sectional aggregation function. Rather, we license 3rd party data as a publisher and aim to add value in the visualisation of that data. I very much hope by mid-year we have a far more comprehensive provision in terms of track coverage.

What is the point of sectional timing in horse racing?

Sectional timing has finally become a thing in British racing having been a staple around the globe for - literally - decades. In this post, we'll explore what sectional timing is and, more to the point, for what it can be used in the racing and betting context.

What is sectional timing?

Sectional timing is, as the name suggests, a record of how fast something happened within a part of a race. In Formula 1 or track and field, this would be lap times within an overall race time; in skiing or cycling time trials, it would be the time a competitor took within a specific segment - or section - of the race.

In all cases, it is a snippet of information about a chunk of a race which can be used to broaden our understanding of how a competitor is performing, or has performed. In and of itself, sectional timing is no more than that.

By collecting this information for lots of similar events, however,  we can start to build up a picture of how to do things optimally, which inevitably means how to win more often.

Why bother with sectional timing?

Let's take a stupid example. Like, a really stupid example. Let's say I was going to run a marathon (already pretty stupid), and let's further say that I decide to sprint the first 200 metres. How do you suppose the remaining 26 miles 185 yards are going to go for me? Not well; I've blown much of my available energy before the race has even started.

Now let's take a slightly more real world example, the 2018 Arkle Chase won by Footpad. Even if you don't watch the video, much of what you need to know about this race is shown in the still image below. Petit Mouchoir (purple Gigginstown colours) and Saint Calvados (white, blue, red Brooks family colours) did something not far removed from my preposterous marathon analogy above.

Guess what happened to the 4/1 third- and 11/4 second-favourites respectively?

They were absolutely whacked by the finish, allowing Footpad - in the green, running at a much more sensible, and sustainable, speed - to win as he liked. Second home was Brain Power, white and black colours, and also restrained away from the duel ahead.

The two scrapping protagonists finished 15 lengths third and 53 lengths fourth of five, only beating a totally outclassed rival who jumped poorly.

After the race, the media went mad about Footpad's demolition job: here we had the new Champion Chase favourite, the next generation of untouchable speed chaser...

Only we didn't. And, with a stopwatch (or even a bit of common sense in a setup as blatant as this), it was obvious that this was not a coronation procession, but rather a case of one very capable horse benefiting from the lunacy inefficiency of two other very capable horses and their human support acts.

Footpad did go on to win the equivalent Grade 1 at Punchestown as the 2/5 favourite on his next start. But there he beat a broken Petit Mouchoir - who'd also rocked up at Aintree in between times - and a gaggle of Grade 3 (at best) rivals. Thereafter he was beaten on all three starts in what should have been his breakthrough season in non-novice company. On each occasion he was sent off favourite, twice at evens or shorter. Connections ultimately swerved Altior and the Champion Chase in favour of the Ryanair, in which Footpad finished a distant eighth of twelve.

Even allowing for a solid race in the middle of that trio, he was still beaten by an 11-year-old called Simply Ned that day.

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Back to sectional timing, and what it would have told us about that race. In point of fact, it told us that Footpad ran extremely fast. But he also ran extremely efficiently as a result of sitting off the crazy fractions set by Petit Mouch and Saint C. He was able to maintain his consistently quick pace where those two could not sustain their overly rapid early dash.

Subsequently, in more sensibly run contests, Footpad was less able to bring his high-cruising one pace to bear: the notion that he quickened in the Arkle is plain wrong, he merely slowed down far less markedly than his main rivals on the prevailing heavy ground.

But still we've not got to the nub: why bother with sectional timing?

Because, at the most fundamental level, it helps us to understand what happened far more reliably than our eyes. Sectional information acts as a permanent record where our eyes / brains have a more temporary or transient ability to capture, store and re-process such intel across a wide range of races.

And, most importantly, the collection and collation of this timing data enables us to make inferences that were hitherto not possible, or at least to make them with more certainty and/or confidence.

If we know that an unexposed two-year-old was all at sea early but covered the last two furlongs in a very quick, relatively, time that is worth noting. All the more so if the horse in question didn't win the race and may not be obvious to the betting public.

If we know that an exposed handicapper invariably runs his best races when recording even fractions off an overly fast pace, and the pace map suggests plenty of early zip today, that is very much worth noting.

If we know a horse like Footpad had a perfect setup to bring his A game, and that such a scenario is unlikely to present itself too often, we can risk taking a chunk out of the market by betting against him subsequently. [By the way, I really like Footpad; for him to do what he did in the Arkle having absolutely walked through one of the fences on the way round was awesome. But my affection for the game and its warriors resides in a separate compartment - let's call it my heart - to the one from where my punting intent manifests, and rarely the twain doth meet].

How can I use sectional timing?

As with all pieces of the puzzle, the most important thing to say is that you don't have to use sectional data to make good betting decisions. If you currently get on just fine using form profiling, trainer patterns, pace/draw, or any other methodology, feel free to carry on regardless.

But, just as I have long banged the drum for the value of a greater awareness of early pace in races, I think sectional information takes us to another level of comprehension of what happened and why - and, far more importantly, perhaps, what might (or might not) happen today as a consequence of what we understand of the previous days.

If you already use the geegeez pace maps, sectional timing information will help you understand more fully what happened. It will contextualise one horse's performance in the race macro. And that will help you make better, more informed betting decisions.

Why are you telling me all this?

Two reasons, one narrow and one broad. Broadly speaking, knowledge is power when betting. A company called Total Performance Data has been recording sectional timing information for more than three years at some of the all-weather tracks. They have more recently extended their coverage to all of Sky Sports Racing's tracks (with the exception of Ascot).

Racing TV's umbrella company, Racecourse Media Group (RMG), has - via its own supplier, CourseTrack - also been gathering sectional timing information since late summer.

A year from now sectional timing data will be available for all tracks in UK (with the possible exception of Chelmsford) and, via the specialist racing channels first - but with some noteworthy interjections in terrestrial coverage - the language of sectionals and their implications will find their way into the conversation.

Five years from now, sectional data will be mainstream. Talk of how races will be run will be fundamental cornerstones of the form debate, rather than the last word before a race goes off: "xyz is lining up at the front of the field and he looks like he might lead".

The more narrow point is that geegeez.co.uk will soon start publishing sectional timing information in its Gold racecards. It won't clutter the view for those who have no intention of engaging with it (yet), but it will be there for Gold subscribers of a more curious / time-based nature.

Here are some artist's impressions of how things might look:

Full Result

 

Full Form

 

Cards Inline

 

What next?

At some point before Christmas, sectional timing information for Total Performance Data / Sky Sports Racing tracks will appear within the Geegeez Gold racecards. It will be switched 'off' as default, but with options in your My Geegeez profile to turn it on, either in visual or data format.

Sectional data will be part of the existing Gold provision at least until the end of 2020, after which it may become a paid 'add on' for those who derive value from it. (This content does not come cheap, even before the months of development time/cost have been factored in, and it's been something of a gamble to take it on. That is my problem, of course, and we'll see how things go, but I want to be clear at the outset about the potential to charge separately for this at some point far down the line. Fair enough?)

Alongside the release of sectional data on site, there will be a number of explainer videos and a section (no pun intended) in the User Guide to help you get your feet under the table.

Thereafter, we'll have regular editorial picking up on races of interest from the previous week or fortnight. Sometimes these will be big races, and sometimes they will be races which might have otherwise snuck under the radar.

Super Important

One really important point in closing: I am not by any manner of means expert in inferring sectional content. I know plenty about running lines and points of call from my exposure to US racing, and I have got up together on such as finishing speed percentages and pars more recently as a result of grappling with their inner workings to help my developers.

I am still learning how best to infer the data, and how best to use it for punting purposes. To that end, I very much welcome comments from those who maybe already use this intel from other sources. And, also to that end, I very much welcome your tolerance if/when I/we make a mistake in presentation.

When the sectional content arrives on site it will be in BETA mode. That means it might be imperfect, and I welcome your support in resolving any glitches.

This is an innovative new frontier as far as British racing - and geegeez.co.uk coverage of it from a form perspective - is concerned. I'm excited to see where it takes us...

Matt

Why Sectionals Matter

Galileo Gold wins at Royal Ascot. Sectional times tell us how good a performance this was.

Galileo Gold wins at Royal Ascot. Sectional times tell us how good a performance this was.

One of the more surprising stories to emerge from Irish racing in the past few weeks was a revelation from Johnny Ward of the Racing Post that SIS plan to back the establishment of sectional timing at all Irish tracks from the start of 2017, writes Tony Keenan. This news was unexpected on a number of levels, not least because Irish racing is essentially backward in nature, and whether it comes to fruition or not, be it in 2017 or beyond, remains to be seen.

But I for one would be strongly in favour of not only their use but the idea that they could be widely disseminated to the betting public and it is hoped this initiative is not a pipedream. The reasons why sectional times matter have been covered many times before, and often by bigger and better brains than mine, but even so it is worth restating their benefits here, if only to put my views on record. Much of the focus of these articles is on punting as that is the perspective I feel best qualified to represent but for this one I have tried to keep the focus away from mere gambling and look at the industry as a whole.

 

  1. Reading Races Better

The central cog to the sectionals argument, the one that most the other benefits stem from, is that these times allow for much better race reading. Pace is a vital component of any race, as even the most limited club runner who has gone off too fast or finished with running to give in a 10k race can tell you, and the naked eye simply cannot capture as much about pace as a number can. From my own perspective, my understanding of a how a race has unfolded is enhanced greatly by using sectional times to such a point that I now find that my reviews of races without these times are missing something.

There are a number of punters currently either taking their own sectional times or using Timeform’s archive of the same and they have an edge; from experience I can say that sectional upgrade horses are often underbet in the market now. The public availability of these times, and the eventual understanding of what they mean, could erode this edge to a degree but punters who want it to continue as such are being selfish; a strong sport is better for everyone.

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Moreover, this sort of data-rich sporting landscape is exactly what the modern fan wants, indeed expects. Analytics may have been born in America with the likes of Baseball Prospectus and Football Outsiders, but such methods are over here now in soccer (yes I do call it soccer) through people like Michael Cox of Zonal Marking; and bringing something similar to racing would surely attract more followers to this most complex of sports.

 

  1. Early Talent Identification

The fact that a number of racing yards, not least Ballydoyle, already use their own sectional timing in training their horses speaks plenty about how useful they can be and it can certainly help those go-ahead stables in ascertaining what they have from an early stage. This applies on the track, too, where horses like Golden Horn have stood out from an early stage on the clock. So, while it is only one method of talent evaluation and may get horses wrong, it seems as reliable as any purely visual approach: indeed, it would be best if both methods were combined.

If we can understand a horse’s sectionals within overall times we are able to place them in a historical context and get a sense of where they might fit in terms of ability, for instance by looking at all the sectionals at a given track over a period of time. This would not only help punters but also owners, trainers and breeders. The owner might spot an undervalued horse he wishes to buy; the trainer might become better at rating his horses from an early stage and thus place them more appropriately; and the breeder can know what sires or dams might be over- or underrated.

 

  1. Accurate Rating of Jockeys

One of more interesting developments in American sports analytics has been the idea of WAR or Wins Above Replacement, a number that rates how superior a player is to a limited (or replacement level) alternative and is basically one of the best ways of evaluating how good a player is. I have a dream that we will one day have a WAR statistic for jockeys that will allow us to properly discuss their respective skillsets and abilities, because so often analysis of riders now boils down to the ‘how many winners have you ridden’ argument.

Sectionals could play a part in this sort of analysis and, over the course of Royal Ascot, they were able to inform on a number of poor rides that the oft-unimpeachable Ryan Moore gave over the few days: importantly, with the substantial logic to back this up. Of course, there is more to evaluating a jockey; these figures would not be able to put a value on how good a jockey is at riding work or dealing with connections or providing feedback on a horse. But to say that such numbers are useless would be as wrong-headed as to say they are everything.

Not only would such times help us to properly rate jockeys but they might even improve race-riding as jockeys become aware of mistakes they are making. Every jockey gives bad rides as race riding is simply too dynamic for anything else, but we have far too much preciousness around criticising them at present. Arming ourselves with the facts and not personalising these critiques would go a long way to building a proper analysis – and development – framework for jockeys.

 

  1. Improvements in Integrity

If sectional times allow us to rate rides better, then surely they can also be used for integrity purposes, providing the authorities with facts and data - rather than the current opinion and conjecture - to support their battle for a cleaner sport. The Turf Club have suffered some high-profile defeats in integrity case appeals this year and it is ironic that one of the central arguments that saw Barry Geraghty and Tony Martin exonerated in the Noble Emperor case came from sectional timing as Donn McClean explained how the horse was making up little to no ground on the winner late on.

It is bizarre that the defendants rather than the prosecution was using this approach and it makes sense that stewards on the track would have access to such data at the time rather than merely after the event, perhaps comparing them to historical events. Rightly or wrongly (and it’s wrongly if you ask for my view), Irish racing has a reputation for skulduggery, a sort of nod-and-wink conspiracy that we’re ok with horses being none too busy. Sectional times could certainly play their part in improving this perception and making our racing more appealing.

 

  1. Opens New Data Horizons

There is a sense from some racing people that it’s cool not to be interested in sectional times, or times of any kind for that matter, and it is almost as if the ‘sectionals boys’ are being set up against the traditionalists, much like the scouts and the data nerds in ‘Moneyball.’ Even the term ‘sectional boy’ is dismissive and I find it disappointing that many in the industry, not content with adopting an ‘each to their own’ philosophy, seek to actively block developments in this area.

I am for more and more data and sectional timing is part of this; if you want to know about wind operations and weights of horses then already having gotten the sectional times can only help you get this information. Data begets data. With all this information, people can then decide what they do and don’t want to use; maybe ten-year trends are your thing: if so, good luck to you, I won’t stand in your way.

The establishment of sectional times in Irish racing would demand higher standards around going reports and measurements of race distances both of which are badly needed and could eventually lead to the sort of next level data that makes modern sports analytics so interesting. But only if we in racing allow it…

- Tony Keenan

Racing and Data Analytics

James Knight, head of racing at Coral, last week put out three tweets that pretty much summed up where our sport is at in its relationship with data and analytics, writes Tony Keenan.

I’m biased of course but couldn’t agree more with the sentiment that racing is the best of betting sports; it has a complexity that few, if any, other sports can match and this is one of its most appealing factors. This complexity lends itself to the creation of data from the nuts and bolts like ground, distance and form to deeper factors like breeding, times and run styles; the list really is endless. But racing, despite some progress lately, doesn’t exploit this extensive data to its full potential.

Much of this is cultural and I mean that not only within racing itself but with a broader Irish, British and European approach to engaging with sport. On this side of the Atlantic, statistics and numbers are not ingrained into the psyche of the sports fan as they are in America. This is changing, however. Take the company Football Radar for example – you can watch a clip introducing their methods here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2ee1GoQdeI) – and you see what can be done with the analysis of soccer.

The Americans do it on a whole different level of course with data-heavy websites like Football Outsiders and Baseball Prospectus, though if you want to read a more palatable version of the numbers then Grantland is the place to go where writers like Bill Barnwell, Jonah Keri and Zach Lowe synthesise the vast array of statistics into cogent and well-written arguments. It’s all very mainstream in the States but it boils down to one thing; these numbers help explain why things happen and how sport works so this is something we should want for racing. And lest we forget, they have extensive betting utility too!

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It’s important to differentiate between old and new data. By old data I mean the fundamentals that make up racing from age to weight carried to trainers. These basic details have been around forever but that’s not to say you can’t garner new insights from them; the book and film ‘Moneyball’, a prime example of sports analytics reaching the masses, shows this as Billy Beane/Brad Pitt exploits the perception that batting average was more valuable than on-base percentage in baseball.

We’re getting better at interpreting these old numbers in racing too and we now have access to the tools to do so; databases like Horse Race Base, and of course Geegeez mean we can put our own filters on the data and find betting angles that were hitherto hard to calculate. We’ve learned that some numbers are better than others and by better I mean have more predictive value; pure strikerate is a fair indicator of success or otherwise but figures like impact value, actual over expected and percentage of rivals beaten give a truer insight.

But it’s the new data that really interests me. Again, the Americans have led the way. Football Outsiders, the doyens of NFL analysis, use volunteers to chart the minutiae of each play and you can now see data on all the moving pieces of on-field actions, including the once-anonymous offensive lineman and cornerbacks, not just the skill positions like quarterback and wide receiver. Baseball is arguably even more advanced where each major league stadium has installed a PITCHf/x system which charts the trajectory and speed of every pitch thrown in the game. I have even read articles lately where they now have the technology to tell how much spin each pitch has and these are balls moving at upwards of 90 miles per hour.

Racing too has many areas where new data can be introduced, and chief among them has to be sectional timing. I have to admit to being a devotee of sectionals and an admirer of Simon Rowlands and his team at Timeform who have done so much in terms of education with the subject and in building a database of times for racing in the UK. I do some sectional timing of my own and they certainly have betting application with pace being so important in the outcome of a race.

Establishing sectional times at every track in Britain and Ireland would obviously be expensive but I would be surprised if it doesn’t come around eventually; in the interim racecourses need to get on board with people doing their own times and play ball in terms of getting the race distances right and advising of any changes as well as making furlong markers visible. The same applies to TV stations who can provide on-screen clocks and suitable camera angles that aid taking sectionals. Taking these figures can be a little laborious, especially when camera angles make things difficult, and I look forward to a day when the data is provided and I only have to interpret it.

An extension of sectional times is the use of GPS in tracking the exact movement of horses within a race as each animal carries a chip to relay back information about its race position. We have only really seen this used in Dubai (where there is obviously an unlimited pot of money to spend on racing) and at the Breeders’ Cup, with the American company Trakus charting the specific breakdown of how each race went, but the numbers are fascinating. Not only does this provide us with the times for each horse but it also reveals the cost in distance of racing wide, an-0ften underrated aspect of race analysis over here. Simple physics suggests that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line but we have no way of quantifying the cost of racing away from the rail in Ireland and Britain.

Horse weights are used extensively in Hong Kong, a jurisdiction that many believe is the ideal in terms of racing run for the betting public. Whereas installing sectional timing and/or GPS tracking systems at every track in Britain and Ireland would be costly, the weighing of horses would not. The scales are relatively inexpensive, costing between €3-5,000 each, and it’s not as if horses aren’t used to them with many trainers using them at home. Knight mentioned integrity in his tweets and the weighing of horses would be massive tool in the policing of the sport as the best way to stop a horse is not to give it a ride where it can’t win but rather to leave it half-fit for the race.

The obvious plus to the latter option for the dishonest trainer is that there is no way of proving it with the current system. Were the weighing of horses to become widespread, this would lead into a sort of big data around the published numbers; we could compare animals not just against themselves but also against others and over the years could get a sense of optimum racing weights and what sort of figures suggests a horse is not fit or even too fit and ready to go off the boil.

As I mentioned earlier, there are some aspects of American sports where charters note down the data on each and every play, working within a common framework that standardises the numbers; Football Outsiders do this and the volunteers get access to the information while others have to pay for it. This could certainly apply to racing though perhaps in different areas on the flat and over jumps. On the level, charters could look at the keenness of horses within races. As things stand, we can read in-running lines that say a horse ‘raced keenly’ but there are degrees with this and perhaps a one-two-three scale would be better, with one being not perfectly settled, two taking a right grip, and three pulling the jockey’s arms out thus giving itself no chance.

When this data is compiled, it could be placed alongside other information and provide insights. We would know which trainers’ horses are more keen than others (and which can win being keen and which can’t) and what jockeys are best are settling their mounts. We could find that certain tracks or races run at slower paces produce more keenness or even that how horses race is random. Backers of Golden Horn on his next start would certainly be keen to know this after his hard-pulling effort in the Juddmonte International; what are the chances he does the same next time?

This could also apply over obstacles with a horse’s jumping ability graded one-two-three at each hurdle or fence. Again, we would find out which trainer’s horses jump best and whether bad jumping is repeated from one start to the next; we all have our own ideas on this but it would be better to put a number on it. It could also answer some difficult questions like was Zaarito, who fell three times in 2010 with races at his mercy, one of the unluckiest chasers in recent memory or simply a terrible jumper?

With all this data, there will be things that people get completely wrong, numbers that we use that really have little value. But these blind alleys don’t matter in the big picture as mistakes help push racing analytics on. Big data is here to stay in sport and as fans who have become accustomed to seeing it in other sports, many of us want it in racing too. Let’s hope we don’t get left behind: there is no reason why we should with the amount of technical angles we could exploit.

- Tony Keenan

You can connect with Tony on twitter at @RacingTrends