Sectional timing will be fully introduced at Turffontein, Vaal, Flamingo Park and Fairview racecourses in the near future and it is set to offer horse players, owners, trainers, jockeys and stipendiary stewards alike a rich insight into how races are run.
Tabnews reports that all the basic elements of the system are now in place and limited sectional-timing data is being distributed when appropriate in order to assist with checking the validity of the data and the fine tuning of the displays.
All aspects of the system will be vigorously tested and checked over the next few weeks and adjustments made where necessary.
Sectional timing has long been part and parcel of horseracing in the USA, the biggest horseracing nation on earth, and many American punters would be lost without it.
The existing official timing system in South Africa – and in many other countries – only records the time taken by each horse for the full distance of the race. These times offer much assistance in assessing the merit of horses’ performances, especially when other factors like track variants and average times for the class, course and distance are taken into account – as with Computaform speed ratings for example.
But what the total time for a distance does not reveal is the pace at which a race is run and therein lies the value of sectional timing, in which the time for every horse for each 200m segment of a race is recorded.
This in turn reveals the pace of the race at different points and paints a picture of how a race unfolded: was the pace relatively even throughout, did the runners dawdle early or in the middle stages and then sprint home and so on?
The pace is a key factor in the outcome of any race and many fancied runners come unstuck because of a stop-start tempo or a casual gallop for three-quarters of a race followed by a mad dash to the post.
This is particularly relevant in races over middle distances and beyond in which the pace is much more likely to be odd than in sprints, which are generally run at a true gallop.
The part played by the pace in the outcome of a race simply cannot be accurately determined without sectional timing, which is precisely why it will be such a valuable tool for all horseracing stakeholders once it is fully operational at Phumelela racecourses in Gauteng, Free State and the Eastern and Northern Cape.
It is a system built from scratch because the cost of buying an international off-the-shelf system was prohibitive and there have been unfortunate but inevitable delays in the implementation.
Problems encountered in the development of the system have ranged from the sectional-timing devices inserted into the saddle cloths having to be redesigned to a myriad of other issues.
But the good news is that development of the system is now in the home straight and once current testing is completed to everybody’s satisfaction it should be all systems go.
Arnold Hyde, Racing Control Executive at the National Horseracing Authority, said the betting public and racing officials will benefit greatly from sectional timing.
“The way racing is going, the bettors and the public are demanding as much information as possible.”
Hyde emphasised that the NHRA as the industry regulator has placed stringent demands on the equipment used.
“Foremost is that the equipment must in no way be harmful to horse or rider,” said Hyde. “It must cause no discomfort and it must have no negative effect whatsoever.”
According to Hyde, their vets have been scrutinising the sectional timing devices throughout their evolution.
“They have become increasingly smaller and lighter, but I understand that we are not quite at the final product yet.”
Hyde also said another demand is that all the information gathered through sectional timing must be made available to the public.
According to Clyde Basel, Horseracing Executive at Phumelela, the current sectional timing device weighs around 120 grams.
“It’s still a work in progress,” said Basel. “We are at the stage where information gathered during trials is collated and the information is being checked by our publishing department.
“Sectional timing is with us. It’s here. Yes, it’s taken time and we are still smoothing out the rough edges.”
Rob Scott, who heads up Tellytrack and Phumelela Marketing and Publishing, said his team was looking forward to being able to make sectional-timing data available to industry stakeholders.
“Sectional timing is being introduced to assist the National Horseracing Authority, as well as punters, owners, trainers and jockeys, to analyse races better. The task of my team is to ensure the data is displayed in a format that is easily understood and of benefit to all sectors of the sport.”
- Report by Tabnews