Sectional Spotlight

Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands reviews the Poule d’Essai des Poulains and the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches plus the pick of the action from the domestic season opener at Newcastle.

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The importance of using the evidence of the clock rather than just your eyes, even if you have recently driven a 50-mile round trip to your favourite beauty spot to check the latter, was underlined by the action on Monday at Deauville, which staged the first two classics of the French season.

According to the race commentator, the leaders in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains went “no great pace” while those in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches set off “fairly quickly”, causing some onlookers on social media to imagine that the latter paid the price. The evidence contradicts this interpretation.

On-screen splits had the former 1.10s faster than the latter after 600 metres, 1.51s faster after 1000 metres, 1.55s with 400 metres of the 1600-metre race to go, 1.52s faster at 200 metres out and 1.54s faster at the line: those last four times are each equivalent to nearly 10 lengths.

This is not intended as a bashing of The Visuals Boys, for evaluating pace “live” is difficult to do in general terms and impossible to do with pinpoint accuracy, but it may serve to support the notion that the clock is ultimately the proper arbiter of such matters. Interpreting pace correctly is crucial to an understanding of what really went on.

Those sectionals tell us that the two races were run in broadly similar fashion, but that one was significantly quicker than the other. By converting those sectionals into finishing speed %s – the speed in the final 400 metres as a % of the average speed for the race overall – we can further deduce that both races were truly run (but not overly strongly run) and represented fair tests.

By doing the same for each of the principals in each of the races, it is possible to assess which of them, if any, was flattered or inconvenienced.

Poulains and Pouliches individual splits

In summary, what you saw was largely what you got in the colts’ race, with Victor Ludorum getting a slight upgrade for that smart closing split to rate the best winner on my figures since The Gurkha in 2016, while Speak of The Devil looked an unlucky loser in coming from some way back in a fillies’ race that deserves to be regarded as somewhat substandard.

It should be noted that the ground at Deauville, to where these classics were diverted from ParisLongchamp, was almost certainly firmer than good (and firmer than given), with an older-horse handicap at 1600 metres earlier on (in which the runners headed middle to far side) managing to break 94.0s. The Universal Standard Time for the distance at similar courses is around 97.5s.

Victor Ludorum was back to the form that saw him win the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere in an unbeaten two-year-old season, having underperformed slightly behind The Summit in a more tactical Prix de Fontainebleau on his reappearance. For what it is worth (something, hopefully), he strides more like a miler – above 2.50 strides/second at his peak here – than a middle-distance performer.

Speak of The Devil’s jockey, Cristian Demuro, should not be blamed for the filly’s narrow defeat, as she was slowly into her stride and short of room a couple of times before storming home. If there was a genuine Group 1 filly in the Pouliches field, it was probably her.

The ability to sort the wheat from the chaff is likely to be more important now, at the start of Britain’s delayed flat season, than ever. If you want to separate the genuinely promising types from the mere “late-headway monkeys” then time/sectional analysis is very likely to assist you.

Newcastle’s 10-race card on Monday featured mostly handicaps but also two Novices and a brace of Maidens. First, let’s take an overview of the entire card, of what the overall times and the race finishing speed %s – those for the leader at 2f out and the leader (i.e. winner) at the line – say.

Newcastle Monday overview

What they do say, for starters, is that the surface was slow, with an allowance between 130 and 158 according to distance, if not quite as slow as on 11 February when it had been at 165 (100 is standard). Newcastle’s helpful Clerk of The Course James Armstrong had given everyone ample notice of this.

Art Power was comfortably fastest of the four 6f winners and this translated into a useful 97 timefigure, though his race was one of the more efficiently-paced ones (par at Newcastle varies with distance but is usually just under 100% due to the testing nature of the finish at the track).

Edraak’s lightning-fast closing splits (he ran 11.09s then 11.86s) had a lot to do with a pedestrian pace, in sprinting terms, prior to that. Most of the handicaps were well-run, or, in a couple of instances strongly-run.

But it is those two concluding Maidens which really take the eye, especially given that they featured plenty of untapped talent from big stables. The “race” sectionals tell us they were steadily-run, but individual horses will have run their races in subtly different fashions.

Thanks to the TPD splits, which appeared on-screen at the time and which were available individually in the Results Section on ATR shortly after each race, we can investigate in even greater detail.

Maidens individual splits

The John Gosden-trained Frankly Darling – a Frankel filly who had shown significant promise on her only previous start – was even better than her five lengths and five lengths win might suggest, with her sectional figure of 95 being good enough for her to be competitive in Listed races at least. The 12f of The Oaks, for which she was quoted at 16/1 in places, will suit her at least as well despite the pace she showed here, but I suspect that task may prove to be a bit too much too soon for her.

The second, third and fourth in Division 2 should be able to win at a similar level before long – especially third-placed Byzantine Empire, who was going on best of all in the final 1f (12.40s) – but Valyrian Steel looked potentially smart in coming out on top on what was his debut.

Another Frankel offspring, Valyrian Steel demonstrated a remarkably slow cadence (see “Stride Data” in the results) but mowed down his rivals with a superior stride length late on. I reckon he will be a St Leger type once he has a bit more experience under his belt.

Sectional Spotlight
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