The small matter of the Cheltenham Festival meant that last week’s Sectional Spotlight was cancelled, though those of us who prefer the noble game of Flat racing still had plenty of action (and a Championship Bumper!) to consider.
There have, however, been no Fast-Track Qualifiers since the listed sunbets.co.uk Lady Wulfruna Stakes at Wolverhampton on 11 March. Now, here is a race in which the conventional result does not tell you the whole story! It is well worth a closer look.
The headline sectionals tell of an “even” pace, with a slightly faster-than-par finish. That was indeed true for the leader Salateen. But, while he was setting even fractions, some of his rivals were too far out of their ground and running inefficiently.
As the sectional grid shows, Keystroke, Yuften and My Target were respectively 0.8s, 0.9s and 1.2s – or around 5 lengths, 5.5 lengths and 7.5 lengths – behind the leader after little more than three furlongs. That is a lot in a race of this length in which the leader is running at or close to par.
Salateen continued to bang out efficient sectionals, but it was only in the final quarter of a mile that his rivals really got rolling, as those “red” or “fast” sectional boxes for them show.
Crucially, Salateen himself raised his game briefly with that 11.6s penultimate furlong, and that was just enough to see him home in front as Keystroke and Yuften closed him down.
The “sectional tools” tab of the same race result on ATR shows the individual horses’ “efficiency grades” and finishing speed %s (speed for last 2f compared to average speed for race overall), and confirm that Salateen ran close to optimum while the placed horses did not.
Salateen is a decidedly useful performer, but you would back second and third (and possibly even fourth and sixth) to beat him in a truly-run race in which there were no excuses.
However – and this message must be coming across loud and clear by now – many races are not truly-run, and do involve excuses: Salateen does have the not-insignificant ability to make his own “luck” by going from the front, leaving the hard-luck stories to others.
Speaking of excuses, the horse Examiner has more of them than I used to dream up for bunking off Latin. He was in action earlier on that Wolverhampton card, in the sunbets.co.uk Lincoln Trial, and he “shaped well” again in fourth behind Nimr.
As the race heatmap shows, an “even to slow” pace picked up gradually, before there was a dash to the finish. Examiner was fractionally quickest in the last two furlongs, but to a degree which suggests he might have been second, not that he would have won, in a truer race.
This column’s selection Steel Train beat only one home but shaped better than conveyed by sectionals or by the race close-up. An extended mile possibly taxes him in any case.
There had also been a FTQ at Dundalk the previous evening, though rather a low-key one it has to be said. Another Story won a five-runner affair while running to a Timeform rating of 98 – compared to Ennaadd’s 118 in the same division – and posted a finishing speed of 107.7%.
Another Story is unbeaten in three runs in as many years, but – unsurprisingly given the achievements of some of those she may face – figures as one of the outsiders for the Sunbets Mile Final.
The Derby runner-up Jack Hobbs famously made a winning debut at Wolverhampton in 2014, and another Blue Riband entry made a similarly big splash when doing the same there last Friday. Giant’s Treasure did not run fast overall, but he sure ran fast late on, as last two furlongs of 11.2s then 11.1s show.
Timeform has Giant’s Treasure’s closing sectional slower than only Absolute Blast’s and Carolinae’s on 31 January on the course this year, and that pair are useful and race-hardened older fillies. I expect Giant’s Treasure to rate into the 100s, also.
Timeform also has this Wednesday’s debut winner Villette fourth-fastest of all horses on sectionals this year at Kempton Park (not covered by TPD sectionals), at 33.85s for the last 3f. The smart sprinter Pretend (33.33s) leads the way there.
Dundalk on Friday evening hosts two Fast-Track Qualifiers, the winning of which guarantees a horse a place on All-Weather Finals Day at Lingfield Park on Good Friday, 14 April. Unlike the previous two FTQs at the course, there are decent turnouts this time.
Dr Cyrus Poonawalla’s globetrotting star Gordon Lord Byron – last seen in action in Dubai – pitches up in the Download the Award-Winning At The Races App Race at 7:30, but he is not quite the horse he once was and has to overcome stall nine of nine over this turning 6f for good measure.
There are also two raiders from Britain, in Pearl Spectre and SIGN OF THE KODIAC, and the latter looks primed to go close in this company following his close sixth to Royal Birth in a red-hot listed contest at Lingfield last time. He is better-drawn than the useful home defender Togoville for good measure.
A pair of Brits could dominate proceedings in the Visit attheraces.com Race at 8:30 as well. The Andrew Balding-trained mare Elbereth ended 2016 with third positions in good races in Turkey and Italy, and may have to settle for a minor place again behind FIRE FIGHTING here.
The latter has not been seen since August but has been consistently smart in recent times, including on this surface, and his trainer, Mark Johnston, is in good form. Best foot forward should see Fire Fighting home in front now.
There is a bonus FTQ at Lingfield Park on Saturday, added after the original schedule was drawn up. The Betway Conditions Stakes is a qualifier for the Betway Marathon. It looks a good spot for WINTERLUDE, who followed a FTQ defeat of Vettori Rules and First Mohican at Kempton Park in February with an even better effort when second in a handicap at Wolverhampton last time.