Are sectional times of any practical value?
Jockey Tom Queally’s apparent mid-race brainstorm on Frankel in Tuesday’s St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot had the sectional time fans flustered yet again. Tom Queally launched Frankel in pursuit of his pacemaker from the 5 furlong pole resulting in the horse covering the middle part of the race quite a bit faster than the beginning or end.
Sectional timing would have allowed accurate measurement of the distance Frankel covered and the time it took him to do so. Simon Rowlands of Timeform and respected analyst James Willoughby are two very experienced journalists who believe sectional times should be available for, at the very least, all major Flat races in the UK. But of what practical use would they be?
I accept that they’d help in analysing performances, but advocates tend to be racing boffins anyway – they have no problem carrying out a pretty sound analysis by eye. For your everyday punter, sectionals mean little if anything when studying form. Also, how many races are truly run – that is, paced at a good even gallop throughout? Very few, I suspect.
To my mind, possession of a bookful of past time-fractions on every animal running tomorrow will benefit you little if a horse needs a truly run race to produce its best, for there is no telling how each race will be run. Jockeys are more aware of the preferences of their rivals than most punters are, and jockeys will always try to exploit weaknesses in the opposition. If the favourite needs to be held up off a true pace, rival riders will do what they can to ensure there is no true pace.
Racing’s funding is in dire straits and I believe the cost of a sectional timing structure at tracks would be considerable. Where is the return on investment for tracks when so few punters have an interest in time fractions? One for the wish-list of a minority than a must-have, I think.