Not many people foresaw a win for Knight To Behold in Wednesday’s Prix Guillaume d’Ornano at Deauville, judged by the colt’s 25/1 starting price, and even fewer can have envisaged that he would beat a host of smart rivals by wide margins.
The temptation in such instances may be to dismiss the result as a “fluke”, but not so fast. There are sound reasons to think that the effort may have been pretty much as good as it looked.
Knight To Behold had finished ahead of just one horse apiece in the Derby at Epsom and the Irish Derby at the Curragh on his previous two starts, but this was much more like the version that had beaten subsequent Group 1 winner Kew Gardens in clear-cut fashion in the Derby Trial at Lingfield in May.
Perhaps the most important evidence from Deauville is the overall time – 2m 06.10s on pretty soft ground – which stacks up well against others on the card, including the older-horse Group 3 won by Talismanic in a time of 2m 09.72s just 40 minutes later.
But there are also the sectional times, which may be deduced from the on-screen times for leaders and the margins between the horses. They show that Knight To Behold’s race was run at a respectable pace, and confirm that he came back faster than his rivals.
There may be reasons why the beaten horses should have finished closer, but no obvious ones from the sectionals as to why the order at the finish itself was wrong.
Study of Man, Patascoy and Louis d’Or had finished first, second and third in a Prix du Jockey Club which looked about average but was at least backed up by a decent time. The first two may come on a bit for what was their first races since, but there should be no disguising that they were put in their places here.
Oisin Murphy gave Knight To Behold a good ride from the front, keeping enough in reserve for the home straight. It might have made all the difference if the margins had been tight. But, instead, it looks very much as if he was on the best horse in any case.
You know me: I cannot see a myth without attempting to “bust” it. And racing serves up more than a few myths, received wisdoms, and old wives’ and old husbands’ tales.
Another one appeared in the Racing Post on Wednesday, when Julian Muscat – a self-professed unbeliever where sectionals are concerned – stated that “Cauthen stole the 1985 Derby aboard Slip Anchor by securing a soft lead”.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on which side of the fence you are sitting on, the validity of such remarks may be established by looking at the evidence. We have numerous Derbys to scrutinise and deconstruct, and the conclusions from them are somewhat different.
A simple comparison between the sectionals achieved by Slip Anchor in that now-distant Derby and those achieved by winners of the great race this decade shows that the Lord Howard de Walden-owned colt ran fastest of all in the early stages despite recording one of the slowest overall times.
In particular, he was more than 1.0s (over six lengths) quickest in the opening 5f or so, despite those more recent winners including a horse, in Workforce, who smashed the record time for the race.
Whatever else he did on that day at Epsom, Slip Anchor did not get a “soft lead” or set “sedate fractions”, though Cauthen’s rivals did back off mid-race, presumably imagining that the partnership could not sustain such a gallop.
This is, on one level, little more than a historical curiosity now. But on another it does highlight a basic schism between those who trust evidence and those who do not. Which side are you on?
Sectionals are evidence, even though they do require context and interpretation. Contrary to what some seem to imagine, horseracing can become more, rather than less, fascinating when underpinned by facts rather than by hunches.
Back in the here and now, there are a couple of horses who interest me running on Friday. COME ON LEICESTER would be just about best of these in the 3:30 at Newbury on the form she showed when winning at Windsor in May and finishing fifth in the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Things have not gone so well for Come On Leicester in two defeats since, but she is back under what may be ideal conditions of 5f, good to firm going and in a race that is likely to be strongly-run. At the probable odds, she is worth another go with Ryan Moore back in the saddle for the first time since her win.
AWESOME (4:00 Newbury) can also be given another chance. Her overall times and sectionals this year stack up pretty well and just a bit extra should see her home in front in this 5f handicap. She is equipped with cheekpieces for the first time in search of that added edge.