It has been said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, meaning dangerous to those who mistake a little knowledge for a lot more of the same. But it can also be a dangerous thing in an advantageous way in the information-driven world of horseracing.
It may be difficult to determine what a horse has actually achieved in a race using just form ratings and visuals, especially in jumps racing in which small numbers of finishers and wide margins increase greatly the range of feasible assessments.
It is in such circumstances that a little knowledge of timing-related matters can be a dangerously good thing.
Horses express their athletic ability through running faster or slower than their rivals, but those rivals may be running well or poorly. When horses run faster or slower than might be expected on the clock you can be more confident of what they have achieved, for it is against a fixed benchmark.
“Faster or slower” means not just in terms of A to Z – the race in its entirety – but from A to B, and C, and so on.
The understanding of sectionals, and of how running efficiently and inefficiently impacts overall times, is advanced enough these days to help in navigating the minefield that horseracing form sometimes represents.
Exhibit A could well be the horse AL BOUM PHOTO, who was victorious in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup having won just a Listed race at lowly Tramore on his previous start.
For those prepared to do a bit of spadework, the reward was the knowledge that the winner was probably a genuine big-race contender.
First, it is possible to deduce that chase distances are not as advertised at Tramore (or at many other courses in Ireland) by using Google Earth and videos. If the two-mile chase at the track is indeed two miles, a circuit must be approximately 1471 yards and the 2m 5f and 100 yards of the Savills Chase is about 60 yards longer than that in reality.
Second, accurate timing, from the point at which the lead horse passes the starter and not when the tape goes up, is likely to come up with different, and more reliable, versions of overall race times, here and in many other races in Ireland and Britain.
Third, it is possible to gauge what the standard times should be for both those Tramore chase distances – the “true” distances, that is – from universal figures and a knowledge of course configurations, rather than from data which may be skewed by the very imprecision mentioned above.
Lastly, Al Boum Photo’s time in the 2019 Savills Chase was a whopping 19.2s quicker than the handicap chase at the same distance later on the card, when about 5.0s less than that might have been expected given the abilities of the horses concerned and the weights they carried. Sectional analysis and finishing speed %s showed the latter to have been well-run.
The result is that Al Boum Photo’s time in 2019 was very likely high-class, and nothing like as reported in some quarters.
What of this year, then? Al Boum Photo again won the Savills New Year's Day Chase – elevated to Grade 3 this time – at Tramore and exactly the same distance and timing issues obtained.
In this instance, he ran a mighty 25.0s faster than the winner of the concluding Handicap Chase at the same distance when about 10.0s less than that might have been expected. Al Boum Photo was crossing the line as the ordinary handicappers approached the second-last!
Al Boum Photo’s time was also very good compared to the two-miler on the same card, providing the correct implied distances and standard times are used.
This year’s Savills Chase was just a four-runner event, in which the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup winner gave 11 lb and a six-length beating to 152-rated Acapella Bourgeois.
The temptation may be to dismiss the effort as of little consequence, given where and when it took place: that is what plenty did last year. Or you can use a little knowledge to avoid making the same mistake this time.
Running fast late is often little more than a function of having run slow early, but running really, really, fast late usually signifies something more.
That is the case with the John Gosden-trained GLOBAL GIANT, a spectacular winner of the Betway Conditions Stakes at Wolverhampton on Monday. His overall time was unexceptional – worth a figure of just 68 with me – but his late splits were scintillatingly quick.
Indeed, a last 2f of 22.10s (10.95s followed by 11.15s) was faster than 99.6% of the more-than 30,000 individual records in the TPD Archive for races at the track at a mile or further.
Sectional upgrading elevates that modest overall timefigure to at least 108, and Global Giant looks right back to the level that saw him finish second in Group 3s at Windsor and Dundalk in 2018, when trained by Ed Dunlop.
He is one worth watching out for!
Welcome news reaches me that more detailed sectionals are now in place for some major flat tracks in France.
The service, backed by Longines and with tracking data “powered by” McLloyd (or Mac Lloyd, depending on where you read about it), will appear on the France Galop site but is currently only available in French.
Fortunately, sectional timing – like music and love – is a universal language.
I did a bit of due diligence on the outputs from Deauville’s card on Saturday – and found impressively few errors, though that is not the same as “no errors”.
It is to be hoped that the service delivers what it sets out to deliver – namely accurate individual horse splits in 200m segments for the final kilometre – for, as has been stated here previously, there is much for punters and racing professionals alike to learn from dissecting French action at Group and Listed level, at which there is plenty of crossover with Britain and Ireland.
French horseracing will continue to be broadcast exclusively in Britain and Ireland by attheraces.com’s broadcast partner, Sky Sports Racing.