Making forecasts based on incomplete information comes with the territory in horseracing. Indeed, we can never know everything there is to be known about a horse, its rivals, the conditions under which they will meet, and other extraneous factors. That is life.
But the situation whereby the second-favourite for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March – LAURINA – is likely to turn up there having encountered only one inferior rival in the previous 11 months is one of the more extreme examples of this concept in practice.
Never mind her rivals, or the conditions, we don’t even know much about Laurina herself!
She has run just five times over hurdles since moving from France to Ireland, winning them all. That duffing up of one rival came on Saturday at Sandown, where she barely broke sweat to account for 134-rated Sensulano by 48 lengths, and after which it was announced that she will probably go straight to the Festival.
Some people cannot understand what the fuss is about regarding Laurina, who has only ever taken on her own sex, while others clearly think she is the real deal and worth backing even at short odds for the Champion Hurdle.
I sit somewhere in between, having (after-timing alert) backed Laurina as she passed the post in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the last Cheltenham Festival, but suspecting her odds are too short now.
The thinking behind the original investment was that she had just smashed up some useful rivals by 18 lengths and more, in what appeared to be a very good time (since confirmed, though not everyone agrees), and had scarcely come off the bridle to do so. By my rather hasty calculations, she had less than 10 lengths to find in a Champion Hurdle and had all the potential to find them.
Let us have a look at some of the less obvious facts and figures surrounding Laurina’s career so far (the timefigures, sectional upgrades and going descriptions are my own).
It is fair to point out that Laurina probably achieved little at Sandown, and that Sensulano was probably below form: that is what the time and sectionals suggest. But it is also fair to point out that she probably achieved plenty at Cheltenham and, to a lesser degree, at Fairyhouse first time on the clock (and by “on the clock” I mean in terms of sectionals as well as overall race times).
It is also worth considering some of the striding and sectional measures from Sandown in comparison with others who won over hurdles on the day.
Laurina ran from two out in the same time as Elixir De Nutz had done at shorter earlier on, but she had to do far less work prior to that point. Neither was quite as fast as Monsieur Lecoq later on, while Torpillo was remarkably slow up the run-in, having run his rivals into submission by then.
The details that most interest me are those striding figures for Laurina. She had easily the longest stride – something which is closely linked to ability – in the closing stages of a race on soft ground up a hill, and she had easily the slowest stride turnover at the same time.
The latter is strongly correlated with stamina, and by way of further illustration Laurina was turning over not much quicker in the last half-mile at Cheltenham, at 2.08 and 2.09 strides/second. Those are figures associated with elite two-and-a-half milers more than two-milers according to my research.
The relatively little we know about Laurina (and we may know no more come Tuesday 12 March) suggests she is good, potentially very good, but that she may need soft ground and a strong gallop – as was the case at Cheltenham last year – to show it at around two miles. She has a remorseless, ground-devouring stride, but we don’t know if she can run especially quickly let alone change gears.
As an ante-post backer of Laurina, my idealised race commentary would go something like “…as they come to three out in the 2019 Champion Hurdle, Stormy Ireland starts to come back to the field having set a searching gallop in these testing conditions and Laurina moves up smoothly onto her tail…”
There are some slim pickings on the all-weather in the next few days, but it is worth having a second look at the 7f Handicap at Tuesday’s twilight meeting at Newcastle, due off at 4:45. Only five go, and there are arguably negatives against most of them.
ZIP has proved himself at this course and distance, doing well given the run of the race when second in November, and has been placed a couple of times at Southwell since, recording a solid time behind Absolutio last time.
With trainer Richard Fahey in good form (63% of rivals beaten in handicaps since November), the son of Kyllachy is taken to get off the mark at last.
SPENNY’S LASS does not win often, but she is proving consistent and can reward each-way support in the 6f Handicap at Lingfield on Wednesday (3:05). She was beaten less than a length when fourth at Wolverhampton last time and may benefit from stronger handling again here.
The filly’s trainer John Ryan is another who has his string in good nick at present, having accounted for 60.5% of rivals in handicaps in the last month and a bit.