SECTIONAL HORSES TO FOLLOW
It is at best presumptuous to predict when racing will return but one does have to do something for distraction just now; having spent the two weeks after Cheltenham reading all I could about coronavirus, I now realise that some of the best advice given at the time was to limit your news intake. There is a balance between staying informed and at the same time not getting into a continuous anxiety cycle.
One thing we know is that it will be all flat racing when the sport does return and with that in mind I thought I would have a look back at some horses that posted fast sectionals in Ireland last season with a view to finding a handful that might be worth following in the coming months.
I focussed on the two main tracks, Leopardstown and the Curragh, simply ranking horses by their finishing splits over the final three furlongs at each course throughout last season using Timeform’s sectional database.
This is a [very] blunt instrument and will obviously focus on horses that ran on faster ground rather than those who competed on slower at the start or, end of the season on softer but that is likely the surface we will be racing on when we return so it should have some utility.
When looking through the times, a couple of things stand out. Fast closing sectionals, in most cases, are achieved either by very good horses or in races where the early pace was slow and the runners were able to finish quickly as a result and often a combination of the two.
I was less interested in those horses and races however, than the exceptions, horses that ran fast late in lower class races and/or in decent overall times.
There were 1,179 runners on the flat at Leopardstown last year but the top 10 final three-furlong splits were mainly made up two races; there is no surprise that the first one was the Irish Champion Stakes with Magical (1st, 35.43 seconds), Deirdre (2nd, 35.54s), Magic Wand (5th, 35.63s), Headman (6th, 35.64s) and Anthony Van Dyck (7th, 35.65s) all figuring prominently.
The second race, the 10-furlong premier handicap won Magnetic North (9th, 35.70s) on July 11th was another contributor with Wentwood (3rd, 35.58s) and Innamorare (4th, 35.64) also up there but this was a slowly-run contest early on with a high finishing speed percentage.
Petite Mustique, 19th overall in 35.89 seconds, a time achieved when fourth in slowly-run maiden for juvenile fillies behind Love on the same card, is an interesting one because she looked a typical Ballydoyle filly that was being brought along slowly and posted a pair of improved efforts afterwards, going down narrowly in the Debutante having hit 1/20 in-running.
The concern with her is wellbeing not ability; she didn’t run after that August effort and is not entered in either the Irish 1,000 Guineas or Irish Oaks so she is likely side-lined now.
Instead, I am going to go a little deeper to Miss Jabeam who did the 25th fastest split with 36.02 seconds in a 6f handicap on August 8th and likely would have been faster but for meeting trouble in the straight. That was her second run after a mid-summer break which seemed to bring substantial improvement and while she failed to win in four subsequent starts, she had excuses.
The first of those came at the Curragh at end of August where she was given a lot to do before shaping well over an insufficient 5f at Navan. Her penultimate run of the season came in the Bold Lad over Irish Champions Weekend where her saddle slipped before she finished off with a bit better effort at Dundalk on a surface she was unproven on and over the longest trip she had raced over.
As a result, she will start 2020 on a fair-looking mark of 80, with handicaps over six furlongs likely to prove ideal, and her trainer has done well with a not dissimilar type in Enter The Red in recent seasons.
Just behind Miss Jabeam on the list of top sectionals was Galeola (26th, 36.06s), her fast split achieved on the same card in winning a 1m7f handicap; in fact, she did the fastest closing sectional in a race over a mile-and-a-half plus at the track all season, not bad for a filly that finished the year rated 80.
Her fast finish came in a particularly slowly-run race but she had run faster overall times previously while beating good horses for the grade and it is possible the slow gallop masked her superiority.
There is a case that she should have been unbeaten in all four handicap starts, winning her first two before shaping best in the Ladies Derby at the Curragh, in front too soon in a race that proved strong form, four out of the first five winning next time, the exception winning the Irish Cesarewitch that autumn.
That she didn’t run after August is a little concern but her trainer Sheila Lavery reports her back in training and she should be competitive in those good middle-distance and staying handicaps.
To look at the Curragh sectionals, I split the races into two groups, those over five and six furlongs and those over seven furlongs and a mile, the longer races starting in the slight dogleg further up the straight track and the finishes tending to take place more far side than against the stands rail.
Of the top 10 closing splits over spring trips, the first nine were all from the same race, the Group 1 Flying Five over Irish Champions Weekend won by Fairyland who herself was the fastest of 726 horses over those distances, the only one to break 33 seconds in 32.97s.
Siskin is the only horse to make the top 20 at the shorter distances twice, for his wins in the Marble Hill and Railway, and those sorts of splits might suggest he is more sprinter than miler for 2020.
For the first of those wins, he was the only horse faster over sprint trips on the card thanIndependent Missy (joint-31st, 34.43s) which was a fair effort for the Tracey Collins-trained filly who was having her first start in an ordinary maiden.
She impressed with how she travelled there and ran out an easy winner in a similar contest at Fairyhouse next time despite doing things wrong (slowly away). Off for 121 days afterwards, she disappointed in a pair of October runs in quick succession but I would be inclined to forgive her as the ground was much softer by then and the break was hardly planned. A mark of 85 could underestimate her back in handicap company.
The top ten closing sectionals over seven and eight furlongs has just the sort of horses one would expect; six of them ran in a slow early place Moyglare while three of the others were Group 1 winners, Pinatubo, Romanised and Hermosa.
The tenth member of the group is much more surprising, Ken Condon’s Crafty Madam (9th, 34.12s) when racing off 86 in a fillies-only handicap on Oaks day and she didn’t even win! That race attracted only seven runners but the overall time was good and the form worked out, the winner Waitingfortheday off 84 then but finishing the season rated 102.
Crafty Madam shaped best for much of the race, seeming not to last home over a mile, and ran quite well next time in a more competitive race at the Ebor meeting, perhaps finding the ground on the fast side there.
She finished the season on a high when third in the Group 3 Concorde Stakes at Tipperary despite being rated just 88 at the time but might even have won had she been ridden a bit closer to the pace.
Upped to 99 afterwards and with black type on her page, perhaps connections will be satisfied with their lot but she looks one that could win a Listed race if they persist.