Sectional Spotlight

Simon Rowlands uses times and sectionals to analyse the stand out performers at the Dublin Racing Festival and consider their chances at Cheltenham.

  • Wednesday 05 February
  • Blog
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Last weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival provided a first-rate opportunity to run the rule over many of Ireland’s (but very few of Britain’s) finest horseflesh a few weeks ahead of the even more important Cheltenham Festival.

How you do this is a matter of personal preference, but if you are looking for detailed analysis of overall times and sectionals then you are going to have to do it yourself (or listen to me). Ireland may lead the way in some respects but it is still stuck in the past where timing is concerned.

Timing analysis can tell you much more than which horse was faster than another, overall or in part, and in this instance it sheds some welcome light on what the conditions were really like across the two days.
The official version was “yielding” (roughly equivalent to “good to soft” in Britain) on both days, but that seems not to have been the case. Whatever the ground was, it was a good deal slower on the Sunday than on the Saturday, with watering occurring in between.

Analysis based on overall times is complicated by the fact that not all race distances are accurate in Ireland, and neither are all of those overall times. 

For instance, the overall times of over half of the 15 races at the Dublin Racing Festival were out by more than 1.0s (roughly 5 lengths) when compared to sophisticated video analysis, including one race – the three-mile handicap hurdle on Sunday won by Treacysenniscorthy– that was fully 4.8s out.

In such circumstances, sectionals can be more, not less, valuable. While starts, rails and timing protocols may vary alarmingly, hurdles are not moved between races and fences are not moved at all.

The splits of the chases on the second day of the DRF were approximately 16 lengths slower in the last half-mile than those on the first day – almost a furlong difference on a pro-rata basis across the entirety of a race – when only a small portion of that difference could be ascribed to the different race distances.
That “watering”, well, it must have been substantial as it appeared to turn ground that was close to “good” on times to something like “soft” overnight. Within that context, some of the race splits make for intriguing reading.

Dublin Racing Festival - Saturday spilts

The fast time recorded byCHACUN POUR SOI in winning the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase came about as a result of a strong early pace, which saw the leader roughly 25 lengths ahead of the leader in the Arkle Novice Chase (and nearly as much ahead of the leader in the Handicap Chase won by ECLAIR DE BEAUFEUE) by halfway. 

That advantage increased slightly thereafter, with Chacun Pour Soi and NOTEBOOK running very similar splits late on. My conclusion is that Chacun Pour Soi is the real deal – and so, to a large degree, is Min still – and that Notebook (who bolted before the start) was not as good as he had been when winning here at Christmas.

HONEYSUCKLE’s overall time in winning the Irish Champion Hurdle is unexceptional for the grade when compared with a Ladbrokes Hurdle that was somewhat falsely-run (105.7% finishing speed for winner).
Closer inspection shows that the Irish Champion was run at a steady-fast-steady tempo, with a sharp injection of pace from three out to two out (over 10 lengths quicker than the Ladbroke) and the joint-slowest run-in split of the day.

I am unconvinced by Honeysuckle as a Champion Hurdle contender after this, but it can be argued that she overdid things when the pace lifted, and yet she still found enough to hold off a smart late challenger in Darver Star.

Dublins RacING Festival - Sunday splits

The difference in overall time between the Flogas Novice Chase won by FAUGHEEN and the Handicap Chase won by GLAMORGAN DUKE accumulated more gradually and ultimately reflects better on the former than the latter.

Faugheen probably recorded a fast overall time, helped by a solid pace, but still managed to run from three out quicker than Glamorgan Duke (who was clawing it back on the run-in) and also several lengths quicker than the principals in the 3f-longer Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup won by DELTA WORK.

Good stuff from the old boy, though any assessment has to have Easy Game (who did a bit more running late on) close behind and Tornado Flyer not that much further back. I suspect a really good novice would lower Faugheen’s colours, but only a really good one.

Those two-mile hurdle figures tell of a solid pace in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle (in which Aspire Tower would probably have beaten A WAVE OF THE SEA but for falling at the last) and a strong one in the Brave Inca Novice Hurdle, especially mid-race.

ASTERION FORLONGE’s late splits, although slower than par, were impressive in the circumstances, for that pace proved too much for his nearest pursuers, who finished in around 92% of their average race speed.

Asterion Forlonge is a smart gelding, potentially even a high-class one, though it can be wondered how effective he would be at the minimum trip if faced with a more tactical affair and/or ground that had not been watered all the way to something like “soft”. There may not be long to find out!

For those of us struggling with this interminable, but oddly mild, winter there was a reminder that sunnier days are not too far off with the publication last Wednesday of the entries for the Unibet Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster on 28 March, headed by Sharja Bridge on a BHA mark of 111.

Just the however-many sleeps.

Before then, the Derby also-ran and Royal Ascot runner-up Bangkok will be injecting a bit of class into proceedings, either in the Winter Derby on 22 February or the inaugural Saudi Cup a week later.
He was a most impressive winner of the Betway Trial for the former at Lingfield on Saturday, and in the process broke the track record by fully 0.45s (nearly three lengths).

Many timing records fall because conditions are exceptionally fast, but this was not one: analysis shows that the surface was very similar to usual. What it took was a smart performer, on his “A” game, and some close-to-efficient pacing. Take a look at the TPD sectionals in the Results Section on this site for more detail.

Sectional Spotlight
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