This week’s Sectional Spotlight starts with a philosophical question about betting on horseracing: how much should you listen to the views of those closest to a horse?
There are some who swear by it, and others who swear at it.
When I started at Timeform in the 1980s, one of the first things I was taught was to “keep your ears shut and your eyes open”.
Visuals and evidence, then, over gossip and hype, though these were the days before computers and databases. The mantra now might be “keep your ears shut, your eyes open and your computer switched on and properly backed up”.
Back then, much emphasis was placed on interpreting the signs from the sport’s protagonists – such as those implicit in race entries – rather than in taking them at their word. Nowadays, the utterances of connections are frequently passed off as gospel by an uncritical media, even when those words directly contradict the evidence.
I raise this now because evidence and utterance have been pulling in different directions with some high-profile performances recently.
Take EARTHLIGHT, winner of the Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday. His trainer, Andre Fabre, seemingly has few doubts that the unbeaten colt will stay a mile, and possibly even further. The evidence of striding, and arguably of sectionals too, suggests otherwise.
Earthlight strides quickly, very quickly. Striding quickly is a requirement of sprinting – something which Earthlight already does very well – but an impediment where staying further is concerned.
A high cadence will soon result in fatigue in even a high-quality horse, though a few really good ones – Winx being the most obvious example – manage to stride quickly AND slowly within the same race and therefore carry their ability further. That is not the case with Earthlight, so far.
The following graphs show how maximum and minimum stride frequencies – otherwise known as “cadence” – map to distance using Total Performance Data’s figures (which now run into the tens of thousands of individual examples).
Those data points are the median distance at which mature and in-form horses demonstrating those max/min cadences raced. As can be seen, there is a strong relationship.
Separate studies of mine have shown that individual horses’ cadences remain more or less the same regardless of the distance, the going or the track over which are they racing, so this is not simply a case of horses adjusting their stride to the tempo of the race in which they find themselves competing.
We can consider Earthlight’s own striding and how it compares to the above. The following are his striding arrays when winning the Prix Morny at Deauville and the Middle Park at Newmarket on his last two starts, derived by me from advanced video analysis.
Earthlight’s maximum and minimum cadence figures are most typical of a sprinter, period. To date, he has run at between 5.5f and 6f, and he has shown plenty of speed, including four successive sub-11.0s furlongs at Newmarket under record-breaking and wind-assisted conditions.
To what degree should we accept the striding and sectional evidence over Fabre’s word? “To a large degree, but not entirely” would be my best guess. Those striding figures are median values: some horses do manage to buck the trend.
No horse with a max cadence of 2.71 (Earthlight’s opening figure in the Morny) proved anything other than a sprinter in my sample, but 13.2% with a maximum cadence of 2.56 (Middle Park) were to be found at 7f and 7.9% at 8f/9f.
That suggests it is significant odds against Earthlight staying a mile, but, as ever in horseracing, we are dealing with probabilities, not certainties. Perhaps Fabre knows something we do not: that is certainly possible!
As a matter of interest, Godolphin’s star two-year-old Pinatubo strides less quickly than Earthlight but not as slowly as you would like to see for a horse in order to stay beyond a mile. His max/min figures at Goodwood were 2.50/2.28 and at the Curragh they were 2.45/2.37.
This is pretty similar to Too Darn Hot’s 2.48/2.32 averaged across his last three races as a two-year-old a year ago.
Connections of Too Darn Hot were less bullish about his ability to stay 12f this year than some, and he has since proved to be a 7f/8f performer, in line with those striding figures.
But the colt was favourite for The Derby, at as short as 5/2, last winter despite that evidence, and Pinatubo heads the market for Epsom at this early stage.
Those striding figures, and the fast sectionals which accompany some of them, suggest caution should be exercised, if nothing else.