Kiwi journalist Neil Davis is regarded as one of New Zealand’s leading “speed” analysts. In this special article he gives us a special NZ angle on using sectional times. Neil has been a punter for 30 years and has used systems and different handicapping methods during that time. He now supplies video comments for NZ gallops meetings to the NZ TAB and runs his own website

Once you understand how to use sectional times, you will want to use them all of the time in your form analysis. Australian punters are spoilt with at least the last 600m recorded at most meetings and ?individual sectionals recorded at most city tracks.

But it’s a different story here in New Zealand. Only two tracks ?record electronic sectionals. They are Ellerslie and lately Riccarton. But unless you hear the judge giving the sectional you won’t find it anywhere on their websites! But at least they have gone to the trouble of doing it.

They record the last 800m which is useful, but it would be much more helpful to punters if they moved the sectional timing trigger another 200m round the bend to the 600m mark. That is the stage of the race where the pressure starts to go on and punters are better educated on what a good last 600m time is rather than a good last 800m.

Doesn’t it seem strange ?that harness and greyhound racing ?in New Zealand record sectionals but the thoroughbred code does not?

But it is to our advantage that they don’t. As you will read further on, they are a tremendous asset when analysing how a race was run and which horses you can follow with confidence and which ones you can bet against.

I developed my skills of reading races using sectionals from Australian races. I ?practised recording the races on video then using the frames from the video to see if I could match the official ones. ?I am now confident in working out sectionals very accurately on New Zealand gallops races.

So how are sectionals worked out?

The last 600m of a race is recorded when the leader hits the 600m mark. ?The time is stopped when the winner hits the finish line. So, if the leader at the 600m mark goes on to lead all the way that will be the race sectional.

Let’s take an example. Baldessarini, in his leadup race to the 2006 Railway Handicap, raced in an Open 1200m race at Ellerslie. He sat on the leader’s flank till the turn, drove to the lead and won well. Royal Entertainer was the leader in that race and when he passed the 600m he was 0.75 of a length in front of Baldessarini.

When Baldessarini hit the line he stopped the ?600m timer at 33.40. So that was the race sectional. Now to work out Baldessarini’s personal last 600m is easy. He was 0.12 seconds behind Royal Entertainer so that is deducted from the 33.40 to get 33.28, which incidentally was one of the fastest last 600m I’ve ever recorded there, so it was no surprise to see him win the Railway Handicap at his next start even though he got caught three wide near the pace with no cover. ?

Now, let’s see how we get the second horse, Royal Entertainer’s, last 600m individual sectional.
He finished 2.8 lengths behind Baldessarini. Off the video I made this equivalent to 0.44 seconds so his time was 33.40 plus 0.44 equals 33.84 seconds – still very good in such a fast run race of 1.08.56. ?In fact, he went on to win 15 days later paying nearly $7 leading all the way running a similar last 600m of 33.96.

Let’s do one more example in the race. The third horse, Magistra ?Delecta, trailed to the turn and fought on well for a 5.1 length 3rd. He was 0.36 seconds behind Royal Entertainer at the 600m mark and hit the line 0.84 seconds after Baldessarini. ?So his sectional was 33.40 less 0.36, plus 0.84 seconds, which tallies up to be 33.88.

They take a bit of time to work out but I wouldn’t bother to do them unless it was worth it. Generally speaking, if a horse is capable of breaking 34.00 seconds for his last 600m, in a race run in good time over any distance, it is worth noting. Many horses that won over the summer months last season, indicated their ability early on with strong sectionals. Cog Hill, Xcellent, Gee I Jane and Hasta La Ciao Ciao were just a few to have run excellent last 600m. So, you can see, quality horses run a quality last 600m.

The horses that run the fastest last 600ms of any race on the day are worth noting also. ?Legs was a fine example of this. In her very first start in a maiden race she ran the fastest last 600m of the day of 34.62 on a slightly off track and did it untouched. She went on to win four more races culminating in a terrific Oaks win.

The last 600m is not the only benefit of sectionals. Knowing how fast a field runs their first half of the race is a real key to finding future winners. It is also helpful when trying to find out why a horse didn’t finish a race off when expected to.

Lets take a 1200m race as an example. A good time for 1200m is 1.10.0. ?So if the first 600m is run in 36.00 seconds the second 600m will be run in 34.00 seconds.

It takes on average 0.16 seconds to run a length of a horse and only very good horses can break 33.50 seconds for their last 600m. So it’s logical to assume that any horse more than three lengths behind the leader at the 600m ?is going to have to put in a top effort to get near the leaders with that slow pace on up front. ?

The opposite also applies. If two or three horses fire up in front and the jockey on the outside of the leader is intent on getting to the front on the rail, this could cause the first 600m to be run in 34.00 seconds. The leaders are very unlikely to be able to maintain that speed and anything off the pace will have a royal opportunity to finish over the top of them.

The horse six lengths (1 second) off the leaders at the 600m will run his first 600m in 35 seconds, therefore he only has to run the last 600m in 35 seconds to be right in the finish. If he is capable of running faster he probably wins it. So, lets say you see a 1200m race and we know the first 600m was run in 34.10 seconds because the front runner was taken on by the horse outside it.  And the leader was only run down in the last 50m and finished a two length ?4th in ?a good time of 1.09.50.

Two weeks later, at his next appearance he strikes a field where he is the only proven front runner and this time no other horse in the race is likely to have a crack at him in the lead. Therefore, he will be able to get away with maybe a first 600m of 35.50 and will have much more petrol in the tank to run a stronger last 600m. The race pans out as you expect and your front running selection kicks strongly on the turn and you know he is going to be very hard to beat. He hangs on to win at false odds and you collect the cash knowing you have earned it.

It doesn’t always work out as planned but as you have probably realised by now, you will definitely have an edge over other punters who don’t have access to this knowledge.

Some sectional students totally ignore sectionals on Slow or worse tracks, and with some justification. With many tracks having straights that favour a chosen few in the straight with slow and fast lanes, it’s a bit of a raffle as to who gets the best lane. But I have found that working out what the first 600m or 800m of races are ?on tracks that are fairly consistent ?for the whole day, i.e. no rain during the day, can often lead to winners for similar reasons on dry tracks. There is a lot more to learn about sectionals and how they can give you the edge. You can search the web for many different angles.

By Neill Davis