Sectional timing on UK racecourses

A guide to Pace Analysis in horse racing - Part 2

Variations in Racing Surfaces

There are basically 3 racing surfaces:


Obviously Turf can mean many thinks from Heavy to Firm. Generally speaking the softer the surface the less relevant pace analysis is. However on good or faster ground then all of the principles previously mentioned hold true. In the UK there are a lot of idiosyncratic courses in terms of tight turns and undulations. For each course their will be an optimum way to ride the course. If you can understand this from looking at past races then you will have a massive advantage over your fellow punters.

Dirt (e.g.Fibresand)

Dirt races are probably the easiest to understand, and if you watch a meeting at Southwell, which is the only racecourse in the UK with a surface which equates to Dirt, you will very quickly realise that early speed is king. There are two reasons for this. Firstly the surface is like running on sand at your local beach, and it is very hard for horses to accelerate, and any lost momentum due to trouble in running is magnified. Secondly kickback from dirt is horrendous and so it is very advantageous to be at the front away from the kickback.

Synthetic Surfaces (e.g. Tapeta, Polytrack)

Synthetic surfaces ride very similar to good/fast turf, therefore the more of an even pace you can get away with without getting into race trouble the bettor when running on these surfaces.

Variations in Distance

How do sectional times vary by race distance?

The sectional times that sprinters run when running at Ideal Pace are a lot more uneven than those run by middle and long distance horses. To my mind there are two reasons for this:

1. Track position is much more important in sprints, as if you are in an unfavourable position then there is virtually no time in sprint races to make this up, so sprinters tend to run fast early to get track position, particularly when they are running around a bend.

2. *Aneorobic/Aerobic energy. Aneorobic Energy is more explosive energy, however it very quickly builds up lactic acid in the muscles so can only be sustained for very short periods. A horses body then changes to Aerobic energy, which is easier to use but horses cannot go as fast using it. Therefore sprinters use Aneorobic energy for the first 5 - 6 furlongs and then switch to Aerobic energy. Resulting in the uneven fractions.

*Incidentally that is why 7 furlongs is such a specialist distance, as horses switch between Aneorobic and Aerobic at around the 6 - 7 furlong mark and depending when and how this transition occurs results in horses which are particularly good at 7 furlongs or not.

For long and middle distance races track position isn't so nearly as important and therefore horses tend to run a lot more even pace. An example of this is when you get a good jockey with an excellent appreciation of pace such as Richard Hughes who will sit miles off the leader when he thinks they are going to fast. Then from a seemingly impossible position come and nail the leaders on the line.

What you might think is happening in this example is that the winner is showing a great turn of foot to accelerate past the other horses. However in reality what is probably happening is that the winner is keeping on at the same steady and optimum pace and not accelerating at all, whereas the leaders that have gone off too fast are decelerating quickly giving the optical illusion that the winner is speeding up.

This is because the human eye needs a frame of reference to judge the speed and/or acceleration of one body relative to another. This is straightforward when there is one moving object and the reference is motionless i.e one running horse and the stationary background. When the reference is also moving, the eye uses the object moving slowest (least fast) to judge the speed of the other faster (less slow) object.

Click here for the final part of this article which looks at the practical implications of what we have learnt on Pace Analysis in horseracing.