Sectional Spotlight

    Simon Rowlands analyses the stride data of Justify in his Belmont Stakes victory, the sectional times of Calyx’s impressive win on debut at Newmarket and has two selections for Friday’s action.
  • Wednesday 13 June 2018
  • Blog

In the event, neither the longer distance nor the opposition could prevent Justify from becoming the thirteenth US Triple Crown winner by landing the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

While this particular performance by him was not right out of the top drawer, the magnitude of the colt’s achievement – crammed into five weeks, at three different venues and over three different trips – should not be underestimated, and nor should the achievements of the humans associated with him.

As was illustrated in last week’s Sectional Spotlight, Justify needed to perform differently from before in striding terms to win the Belmont, and that is exactly what he did. He went steadier early, relaxed in front, and had more than enough in the locker to repel boarders late on.

It was an exercise in controlled brilliance, under a master of the art in jockey Mike Smith, with another master of his art in trainer Bob Baffert looking on.

This is how Justify’s striding panned out on this occasion.

Justify 2018 Belmont
Ave strideSectionCadence (per sec)
23.2 ft12f - 11f2.38
25.1 ft11f - 10f2.30
25.1 ft10f - 9f2.18
24.7 ft9f - 8f2.13
24.8 ft8f - 7f2.13
24.6 ft7f - 6f2.11
24.4 ft6f - 5f2.12
25.5 ft5f - 4f2.14
25.2 ft4f - 3f2.12
24.4 ft3f - 2f2.17
24.2 ft2f - 1f2.16
24.4 ft1f - line2.14

His maximum stride of 25.1 feet was lower than in the first two legs, but, crucially, his minimum stride of 24.2 feet (ignoring the opening section) was a good deal longer. Meanwhile his cadence – his number of strides per second – dropped off less than at Churchill Downs and Pimlico.

Justify has repeatedly proved too good for his peers, but the future is likely to require him to prove too good for other age groups, also.

His giant physique and raking stride will stand him in good stead when the time comes, as will his ability to switch off if necessary, the latter in evidence in the Belmont Stakes more so than previously.

Justify made his debut as recently as February, but now, less than four months on, he has already achieved a degree of horseracing immortality.

It does not always work out so well, of course, but there was a fair amount of excitement surrounding the debut win of Calyx at Newmarket earlier on Saturday, when he scored by five lengths and six despite racing at only 6f.

Calyx’s overall time was respectable rather than exceptional – I made it worth a timefigure of 85 – but his sectionals were something else.

His own race was very much one of two halves: a laggardly 39.12s to halfway then a blistering 33.44s from halfway to the line, the latter broken down to approximately 11.37s, 10.88s then 11.19s furlongs.

My sectional-upgrading formula – tried and tested over many years now and explained in the free-to-download Sectional Timing: An Introduction by Timeform – suggests a boost of 25 lb, raising that 85 timefigure to a 110 sectional rating. That is the sort of figure associated with a Group 3 or even Group 2 winner.

You did not need a stopwatch to tell that Calyx was full of promise and capable of winning in a much higher grade, of course, but sectional timing captured exactly how fast he ran and what that really signified.

Incidentally, I made Calyx’s striding patterns in those last three sections: 24.2 feet (2.40 strides/sec); 24.4 feet (2.48); and, finally, 24.1 feet (2.45). It was not that Calyx’s stride was abnormally long but that he turned it over remarkably quickly which really counted.

His Dad, Kingman, was like that, and proved capable of murdering his rivals for a turn of foot in steadily-run races but lost the only strongly-run mile (the 2014 Guineas) in which he ran.

I would not be in a rush to step up Calyx in trip if he were mine. But it’s a fair bet I would not be writing this blog if I was Khalid Abdullah, either!

A couple of horses catch my eye on Friday’s British flat cards, both of them likely to come from behind in what should be well-run races.

The Roger Varian-trained CHARACTER WITNESS in the 3:10 at Sandown looks a winner waiting to happen, having got going too late when well backed in a messy contest at Kempton last time, giving the impression he should just about have prevailed.

This is 7f again, and he goes off the same winnable mark of 77 once more. Here’s hoping he gets the rub of the green this time.

The opener at Chepstow is a 6f handicap which features a number of pace-forcers, a scenario which could well be to the advantage of top-weight SFUMATO, who has got going too late at the minimum trip in his last two runs.  

The Iain Jardine-trained four-year-old is off his lowest ever handicap mark now and donning a visor this time to boot. It all points to the likelihood of a prominent showing from him in what is by no means a competitive heat.

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