The action at Goodwood this week has reminded us of a number of things, not least how much trouble in running can occur at this unique track of ups and downs, twists and turns, and more-than-occasionally large fields.
It also reminded us of how pace-dependent and tactical many of the races are, especially those with smaller fields.
Although Goodwood is largely a speedy track, its straight is around half a mile in length and rises slightly near the finish. If you go too soon, you are likely to get run down. If you leave it too late, and burst to the front as the runners pull up passing Trundle Hill, that is not good either.
Although sectional times are not produced at the track currently, it is possible to get some accurate ones for the closing stages through detailed video analysis.
The same principles apply here as anywhere else: if a horse runs close to sectional efficiency, then it will maximise its average speed and minimise its overall time. “Sectional efficiency” may be expressed as finishing speeds that are a % of average race speed.
Due to Goodwood’s conformation – and more as a result of the twists and turns earlier in longer races than the ups and downs – those par finishing speed %s tend to be well over 100. Horses finish quickly here, or run slower earlier, depending on which way you look at it.
It is worth comparing and contrasting the three Group 1s run at the course this week, starting with the Goodwood Cup on Tuesday.
Even by Goodwood standards, those finishing speeds are very high, and some of those individual sectionals are remarkably quick for stayers (as will be seen by comparison with shorter races later on).
STRADIVARIUS’s overall time was far from fast, but his (and Torcedor’s) closing sectionals made up for that. A crucial stage of the race was when TORCEDOR kicked 3f out – putting in a very fast 11.05s furlong – and briefly had Stradivarius in a spot of bother.
Stradivarius responded heroically under Andrea Atzeni, while the other runners lacked the pace to get back into it.
The right horse won, but those sectionals show how even one with perhaps a few lengths in hand can nearly come unstuck when its main rival receives an especially enterprising ride.
Enterprising rides come in many different forms, of course. Such as the one executed by Oisin Murphy in the Sussex Stakes aboard the grand old-stager LIGHTNING SPEAR, who finally won the Group 1 that his ability merited.
Despite a steady pace until after halfway (set by WITHOUT PAROLE), Murphy sat and waited, and sat and waited a bit longer, before unleashing his mount’s lethal turn of foot in the final furlong.
That time of 11.66s may be the slowest of the last three sectionals, if not by much, but it is in fact the quickest compared to pars of 11.80s, then 11.75s and finally 12.55s given the overall race time.
Those who raced prominently (such as Without Parole and EXPERT EYE) might have had excuses in other respects, but not in terms of positioning compared to par. GUSTAV KLIMT (who ran the fastest furlong of all but never got in a blow) and LORD GLITTERS did quite well, but so did Lightning Spear.
The pace was steady again, and Wild Illusion was the one setting it under William Buick. Interestingly, the filly was slowest of the six runners between 3f out and 2f out – often the fastest point of round-course races at Goodwood – while VERACIOUS looks to have broken 11.0s at that point.
Veracious and BILLESDON BROOK may be slightly better back at around a mile, while WILAMINA never got in a blow from a poor position and RHODODENDRON ran as if amiss. But credit must go to Wild Illusion for showing a good mix of speed and stamina and for running her best race yet.
There are numerous other sectional insights from the first three days of the 2018 Qatar Goodwood Festival. For instance, it is worth noting that the leader in the Vintage Stakes for two-year-olds on Tuesday got to halfway roughly two lengths ahead of the leader in the Lennox Stakes on the same day (and the latter, DONJUAN TRIUMPHANT, had got the jump on his field).
The leaders also overdid things in Tuesday’s concluding Fillies’ Handicap, with MOVE SWIFTLY swooping late, and KALAGIA, REBEL ASSAULT and ESCAPE THE CITY all shaping better than the result as the race was run.