Simon Rowlands, a regular blogger on sectional matters and Timeform's Head of Research and Development, welcomes the announcement that sectional timing will be in place at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival...
You could be forgiven for having missed one particular press release among the orgy of press releases and other idle tittle-tattle leading up to the Cheltenham Festival, but the announcement that there will be sectional timing at this year's biggest jumping event is a notable one.
TurfTrax's Sectional Timing and Tracking System (STATS) will provide sectional data for the major races at the 2013 Festival. It is not altogether clear in what form this will be exposed, but Channel 4 Racing's Executive Producer Carl Hicks is a fan and has stated that there will be an element of sectional analysis on his channel.
Considering the amount of ink spilt in the run-up to the big occasion, it is remarkable how little post-race analysis is sometimes undertaken. This should help to redress the balance.
Contrary to what some imagine, sectional times can be very useful in jump racing, where pace sometimes varies markedly and can have a large effect on how horses finish a race and therefore on results. While there are problems regarding the positioning of obstacles and rails, and with distance measurements, they are not insuperable and it is nonetheless easy to take sectionals over jumps as there can be little doubt when a horse is passing a sectional juncture when it is an obstacle.
Timeform has taken sectionals at all jumps courses from time to time and has closing sectionals at Cheltenham going back into the last century. It also has by-obstacle sectionals for leaders and for winners at recent Festivals.
Sectional times, like overall times, are subject to the precise conditions under which they are recorded. Going softer or firmer than usual will slow or speed sectionals accordingly. Knowing what those sectionals usually are is part of the battle also.
With that in mind, the following are the median by-obstacle times of the leaders for the main races at the last four Festivals, taken from the first horse crossing the plane of the starting line, and not from when the tape went up. They should provide some sort of a benchmark for those races next week.
Champion Hurdle: 6.95 sec (first hurdle); 49.9 sec (second); 92.85 sec (third); 117.1 sec (fourth); 138.25 sec (fifth); 174.4 sec (3 out) 190.8 sec (2 out); 217.0 sec (last); and 230.65 sec (line).
Champion Chase: 9.35 sec (first fence); 20.0 sec (second); 41.65 sec (third); 50.05 sec (fourth); 70.9 sec (fifth); 89.85 sec (sixth); 102.8 sec (seventh); 114.75 sec (eighth); 126.35 sec (ninth); 144.45 sec (tenth); 178.5 sec (3 out); 207.3 sec (2 out); 215.65 sec (last); and 232.15 sec (line).
World Hurdle: 15.7 sec (first hurdle); 28.8 sec (second); 40.4 sec (third); 67.8 sec (fourth); 116.4 sec (fifth); 156.35 sec (sixth); 197.85 sec (seventh); 211.3 sec (eighth); 222.0 sec (ninth); 247.5 sec (3 out); 292.6 sec (2 out); 331.55 sec (last); and 346.25 sec (line).
Gold Cup: 12.5 sec (first fence); 24.7 sec (second); 59.2 sec (third); 73.45 sec (fourth); 84.45 sec (fifth); 95.6 sec (sixth); 111.35 sec (seventh); 126.25 sec (eighth); 144.4 sec (ninth); 164.2 sec (tenth); 194.7 sec (eleventh); 206.9 sec (twelfth); 240.75 sec (thirteenth); 254.45 sec (fourteenth); 265.35 sec (fifteenth); 275.9 sec (sixteenth); 290.55 sec (seventeenth); 304.7 sec (eighteenth); 322.35 sec (nineteenth); 340.6 sec (3 out); 369.0 sec (2 out); 380.85 sec (last); and 398.75 sec (line).
Whether you refer to sectionals before an event, during an event (perhaps to aid in-play betting) or after an event - or all three - this year's Cheltenham Festival promises to be a treasure trove of information thanks to the initiative of Channel 4 Racing and others.
My own post-race blogs will deal with significant sectional performances, as well as with form, betting and even some news, and should be available on here shortly after racing has finished on each of the four Festival days.
Check back to betting.betfair.com next week for a read.