Sectional Spotlight

Simon Rowlands compares last weekend's big two Grade 1 chases at Sandown, where pace, weight and ground all played their part.

  • Tuesday 08 December
  • Blog
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There is a saying “you are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts”. That seems especially pertinent after the last weekend in which one or two statements of “fact” had about as much supporting evidence as one of Trump’s more outlandish remarks.  

Opinions matter in horseracing, especially when various interpretations are possible, but not to the exclusion of facts. That is what this column attempts to use as its basis: the provision of facts and evidence can serve an important purpose of its own.

Politologue’s win in an Altior-less Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday came in the fifth-fastest time in the race during the last decade, but still slightly slower than the time recorded by Allmankind, who won the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase 35 minutes earlier.
As one Twitter user observed “if that’s heavy ground then Allmankind is Arkle”.
It wasn’t, and he isn’t, but there can be little doubt he is a very smart novice on something between “good to soft” and “soft”.

This is how the times for the winners themselves unfolded, using video-editing software which synchronised the starts:

That a mere novice managed to run the shortened two miles at Sandown 1.4s (around six lengths) quicker than the reigning Champion Chaser is notable, but it is not without precedent and requires a bit of further context.

Allmankind was about that much ahead of Politologue as early as the third fence (down the side of the course), again at the sixth and then at the tenth, the last in the back straight. He was even further ahead by the time the runners bypassed the Pond Fence, the usual third-last, losing only a little ground thereafter. 

Crucially, Allmankind carried 11lb less than Politologue did, in part due to the BHA’s perseverance with an age allowance which Timeform did away with nearly 30 years ago. The result is that Politologue comes out marginally superior, but that still reflects well on the younger horse.

We have a wealth of evidence to gauge whether or not a race has been truly run, not least at Sandown, where the Pond Fence is situated 2.77f from the finish, and from where a horse should average a speed approximately 97.5% of its speed for the race overall to be considered to have run highly efficiently. This is how recent Tingle Creek Chases have panned out:

Whereas Allmankind’s finishing speed was a very-near-par 98.1% of his overall race speed, Politologue’s was rather quicker and shows his jockey held something back for the closing stages. Un de Sceaux’s win in 2016 and Altior’s win in 2018 – on what Timeform described as “heavy” going – are the benchmark for efficient pacing in this prestigious Grade 1. So, in addition to deserving a slightly higher timefigure based on overall time than Allmankind, Politologue deserves to be upgraded more, if only a little more, due to the way in which he ran his race.

Politologue on his way to winning Saturday's Tingle Creek Chase

One last thing about the two races is that business of bypassing the Pond Fence. Some suggested this accounted for the difference between the times recorded this year and the much slower ones recorded in, say, 2018. But it was nothing of the sort.

We know from extensive analysis that bumpers can be expected to be run in times about 0.6s per obstacle quicker than hurdle races at the same course and distance (see a recent ATR Sectional Spotlight), and from the use of Universal Standard Times that the difference is about the same again for chases compared to hurdles. However, the latter assumes chasers will take the same path as if the omitted fence was not there, when that will almost never be the case. Instead, they take a longer path, in the Sandown case adding at least another three yards to the distance travelled. I would say the omission of the Pond Fence on Saturday speeded up times by just under 1.0s.

At the same time, rail movements were reported as adding 15 yards to the race distance, or just over 1.0s. In other words, the bypassing of the Pond Fence made precious little difference to the overall times in this context. Or that is what the evidence says.

Kempton sectionals a welcome last

This column tries to avoid being partisan, but, let’s face it, the sectional service provided by Total Performance Data at tracks covered by Sky Sports Racing has been far superior to the alternatives over the years.

Nonetheless, it was good to see the other channel providing live sectionals and detailed analysis from Kempton last week, despite enduring problems with live offsets compared to official times.

The analysis included consideration of final-3f speeds as %s of overall speeds – what readers of this column have known as “finishing speed %s” for a long time now – though final-2f would be more appropriate for shorter-distanced races for reasons I won’t elaborate on here. The interplay between pace, position, ability, sectional times and overall times was clear and added to the experience, to this viewer at least.

In a sport of fine margins, pace – not just identified but quantified precisely through sectionals – can easily make the difference between victory and defeat. In no race at Kempton was this more starkly illustrated than in the opener, where the fourth horse Eastern Delight went much too fast early (96.8%), the fifth horse Something Enticing went much too slowly (107.1%), and the winner Global Acclaim occupied the Goldilocks Zone in which the pace was “just right” (100.4%). It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it: that’s what gets results.

Sectional Spotlight
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