Phil Purser edits the popular Just Racing website ( which features racing articles and an excellent ratings guide to wet weather sires.

Sydney and Melbourne’s sectional times, in layman’s terms, are recorded on a microchip within a credit card size device held in the saddlecloth under a horse’s saddle.

At each 200m section of the track a configuration of conduit (a waterproof tube or protective cloth for electric wiring) is placed under the ground. As each horse crosses that point its time is recorded.

The information is decoded and prints out each horse’s times. Obviously, when the whole field have been downloaded you now have a sectional times report on the race. Say the race is at 1200m, you will have individual 200m readings for the 1000m, 800m, 600m, 400m and 200m marks.

At this point most punters look at the maze of sectional times in the Sportsman or at www.sportscolour. (Melbourne) or www.ajc. (Sydney). The punter then looks for one thing normally and that’s which one ran the fastest last 600m, or 200m, or whatever.

Well, if it was all that simple (just back the horses next start who ran the quickest last 600m or 200m, etc), we could all retire and bookmakers would be busking at Nimbin to get a feed for their starving children!

The reality is obviously that while the last 600m or 200m may have a bearing on the future form from the race, it is only a guide. Unless you are sitting in your lounge room watching the video of the race in question (which you have all the sectional times for), you are wasting your time unless you have an extremely photogenic mind.

Why is this? Well, now that you are armed with, say, the last 600m sectionals, you have to determine which horse was the best run. Remember every horse has a last 600m. But did the fastest recorded one cut the corner? Did the horse who ran .50 of a second (or 3 lengths) slower than that fastest horse lose 5 lengths on the turn through getting shunted 10 wide, or being held up in traffic? Is that last 600m relevant if the pace was slow for the first 600m of the 1200m race?

Is that horse’s sectional a career best effort even though it ran seventh, perhaps because it was going to a Group 2 race and you therefore have to know whether that individual horse is flying, so that when it drops in class it’s a “certainty”, barring bad luck?

Did the horse that ran the third fastest last 600m get hit with the whip 30 times in the straight (so it had a gutbuster) or just five times?

So sectional times are a veritable minefield, but I guarantee you will lose if you just back the horse that runs the fastest last 600m or 200m.

I like taking notice of the last 600m of a race, because at that point they still have to (a) negotiate the home turn, (b) go looking for a run possibly, (c) be inconvenienced, and (d) run the risk of being hit 30 times or five times or ridden out hands and heels.  The last 200m is a guide to how fast the horse is, but only if they ran good time overall. Lots of horses can sprint home their last 600m if afforded an easy lead. That is useless, as life on the racetrack over 1200m is not normally just accepting an easy lead with no pace on each start!

A horse may slow down its last 200m, so that on paper it will look a pathetic last 200m, but the jockey may have sat up on it after it was pole-axed at the 150m. How will you know that unless you watch the video at the same time? You’ll say it should have no hope next time because you didn’t know it got pole-axed, and a $1,000 trifecta goes begging, simply because you didn’t view the video.

Always remember that every horse will run a sectional time whether it’s up against the fence, or six wide or held up in running, or is unfit first-up, etc. Just as with videos, I take no notice of sectional times unless the race is run within two seconds of the track record.

Totally ignore sectionals from slow and heavy tracks. They’ll mean absolutely nothing on a good track. Do watch the videos from the heavy or slow tracks, though, but totally ignoring them from future reference except to note horses that were flogged on a heavy or slow track.

The horse who ran 10th on a heavy track in that same race is possibly able to reverse the positions next time they meet on a good track, as the heavy track winner had a gutbuster and the horse who ran 10th had an “easy” run when it wasn’t handling the track or whatever. One runner is full of lactic acid, the other one isn’t.

A horse who ran the quickest last 600m but got hit 30 times is unlikely to win next start, due to the fact it’s been hit 30 times. At that point the sectional times punter can’t understand where he went wrong, but it’s actually quite simple: He or she didn’t view the video.

If they had, they’d have bet against this horse next time (because of the whip) rather than backing it (because it ran clearly the fastest last 600m).

Question: Who ran the fastest last 600m at the recent Gold Coast Magic Millions 3yo? Surely it must have been Serenote or Fine Silver, coming from back in the field?

No. The answer is Cafe Francais, who came from tailed off to run 11th. Well, how come it does not finish further forward than 11th? Because it ran the fastest last 600m meant nothing in that class of race. It could run it against those horses at its next 10 starts and it will never run a place.

It doesn’t mean that you back it next time or the time after that. But one day in your life when you see an ordinary race that has a horse called Cafe Francais in it, be aware it could knock you off at big odds, because its sectional tells you it has “good ability” on a given day, but wasn’t up to that class of the Magic Millions 3yo.

What did Cafe Francais do just seven days before the Gold Coast Magic Millions? At 30/1 it nearly knocked off Daunting Lad at Doomben (beaten a short neck), so you know on a given day, at bolter’s odds, that gay deceiver will nail you. You’ll hear them in the TABs say, “How could you have that (expletive)?”

The answer is easy…because sectional times told you it has “good ability,” and it just needs the right class and conditions to perform.

By Murphy’s Law it will perform the day you put a line through it! It only costs an extra few dollars to add one extra horse into a trifecta, but people (and I do, too) miss them because they didn’t think outside the square.

The big money in punting is in trifectas. The pools are big and the average punter doesn’t think outside the square. What’s wrong with having a trifecta for a 50 cent unit and include more horses in the bet? Half a loaf is better than none.

If picking placegetters was so easy, life would be simple and all trifectas would only pay $50. On January 22 at Eagle Farm the average trifecta paid $237, in Sydney (including Race 2 that paid $7.50) the average dividend was $304 and in Melbourne the average trifecta paid $296.

Apart from Damigos in Sydney (20/1), the biggest priced winner in the bookies’ ring between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne was 10/1 (Devil in Brisbane and Golden Weekend in Sydney). To get $300 out of those roughies (average trifecta dividend) you’d have to bet $30 a win on them at 10/1. That’s highly unlikely for the little punter.

It’s more obscene if you’d have taken the tomato sauce odds of $1.50 on Lieutenant in Sydney. You would need to have $600 on it to win $300, and it took him a lifetime to nail High Priority! That’s good for the old ticker!

Not all sectional times are hard to work out. Some are easy. On Magic Millions day the Open Handicap was won by Inspire. We subsequently had an established formline out of the race as Mitanni, which ran second, went to Caloundra eight days later and got beaten by a wart in track record time by Stradbroke placegetter Consular.

We had Amex that ran 11th at the Gold Coast go to the Sunshine Coast (off an ordinary Gold Coast sectional) and scream home at Caloundra to run fourth to Consular and Mitanni (track record run).

What ran quicker than all of them by a country mile at the Gold Coast and had minor trouble in getting to the outside? Proud Native. Did you know that?

Proud Native steps out next start at Eagle Farm and, aided by a great ride by Zac Purton, wins after being backed off the map. They bet $2.50 in Darwin and it started $1.80. Why? Because a combination of sectional times, watching videos and an established formline meant the horse was a “racing certainty”. He dropped about 10 classes and still had only half a kilo over the limit.

“Racing certainties” don’t come along more than a few times a year, so you have to nail them when you see them.

Always remember that out of an entire race meeting on any given day, on a fast, good or dead track, you will, on the balance of probability, get between zero and three horses to follow at their next starts after a sectional times overview of the meeting.

Sectional times correctly interpreted are a valuable tool in punting and especially for jagging a good trifecta. You won’t always win, armed with sectional times information, because of 643 other variables, but you will be a more educated punter.

Bookmakers fear the “educated” punter, but still, in the main, they enjoy a wonderful lifestyle because of the “mug” punter who turns up each Saturday with a healthy donation of “uneducated” money to fill the coffers.

The “mug” punter will win occasionally, but over the period of a year will lose.

By Phil Purser