Sectional Spotlight

Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands dissects both versions of the Guineas from Newmarket at the weekend.

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It is disappointing that the value of times is still sometimes misunderstood in horseracing, not helped by sections of the media that seem threatened by anything resembling advanced analysis and are therefore hostile towards it.  

Overall times and sectional times record and quantify how quickly one horse got from A to B, how far ahead of, or behind, its rivals it was, where it went fastest and where it went slowest: the very essence of understanding and appreciating horses and races, in other words.

But times require context, and context requires insight and effort, which may be where some decide it is not for them. For instance, Saturday’s QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket was won in a race-record time of 1m 34.72s by Kameko, bettering Mister Baileys’ time in 1994 by 0.36s, or more than two lengths. That is something worth remarking upon given the race’s standing and the fact that it has been around for more than two centuries.

But record times reflect the circumstances in which they were achieved as much as anything, and no-one should imagine that Kameko is the best horse ever to have run in the first colt’s Classic, nor that Wichita and Pinatubo – who also beat Mister Baileys’ benchmark – were the second-best and third-best horses in the race’s long history.

Conditions were quick – very quick – at Newmarket last week, with firm going and a tailwind. In addition to being contested by good horses, the 2000 Guineas was run at a searching pace, to such a degree that the overall time might well have been a bit quicker still had the runners reined back more.

We know this from the sectionals and how those sectionals compare with past editions of this and other races.

“Official” sectionals did appear, eventually, but having Kinross in the lead after 1f, when he manifestly was not, suggests there are still some issues with the data.

The following are my own figures using advanced video analysis: a degree of estimation is involved with horses in the pack but not really with the leaders passing furlong markers.

2000 Guineas sectionals

There is, as they say, a lot to unpack there, so I will call out a few bullet points.

•    The pace in this year’s 2000 Guineas was particularly strong in the second to fifth furlongs compared to historical pars
•    The entire field was ahead of par by halfway
•    Remember how fast Frankel went when winning in 2011 (into a headwind, it must be said)? Well, he would have been in mid-division on raw time (47.55s) at halfway in this year’s Guineas
•    Each of the last three furlongs was slower than par, though not to a huge degree
•    Kameko ran most efficiently of all, in mid-field until fairly late in the day
•     Wichita and Pinatubo paid the price more late on, in a race in which the wheat had been sorted from the chaff entering the closing stages

The individual efficiencies of the principals may be summarised by considering their speeds in the final 2f as a % of their average race speed. Sectional upgrades arise from the difference between this % and par, which is 99% for the last 2f of the Rowley Mile.

2000 Guineas sectional upgrades

Kameko is a good horse – there is no denying that, even though his time is less than exceptional compared to that of the winner of the handicap which followed (just 0.44s slower) – but he benefited from being kept out of the white heat of battle until fairly late on. Those finishing speed %s show that everything in this year’s 2000 Guineas was slowing late, in both absolute and relative terms.  

Wichita would have a chance of turning the tables under similar conditions ridden slightly less aggressively, while Pinatubo (perhaps not quite as outstanding as the Curragh made him look in retrospect, though still a shade disappointing here), who put in the fastest furlong between 3f out and 2f out, also deserves to be upgraded.

Thoughts inevitably turn to future battles, between these horses and others. Not just sectionals, but pedigrees, run styles and past performances, may be thrown into the mix. As can striding analysis, which is often particularly illuminating with horses like this.

Remember that sprinters must stride quickly, stayers need to be capable of switching off by striding slowly for sections of their races, and milers/middle-distance horses lie somewhere in between.

Kameko (2.37 strides per second maximum, 2.27 minimum here) could well prove best at 10f or a strongly-run 8f, in my view. Wichita (2.33/2.19 here, but a bit faster previously) looks primarily a miler.

Pinatubo was impossible to evaluate fully from a striding point of view here due to his positioning but had strode like a 7f/8f performer previously. Military March (2.38/2.16) looks like being best at 10f/12f and ran a perfectly decent Derby trial for me, having run a 118-rated sectional at two years.

It proved impossible to dissect theQIPCO 1000 Guineas at Newmarket the following day in the same detail due to the absence of well-placed furlong markers early in the race, with the runners on the far side. Official sectionals exist out there if you wish to trust them.  

Nonetheless, there are a few things that can very definitely be said. Love’s time of 1m 35.80s in winning by four and a quarter lengths was easily fastest of four at a mile on the card, with conditions seemingly not quite as quick as 24 hours earlier.

She may have beaten little – with Millisle and Raffle Prize running poorly, and the outsiders Final Song and Romsey almost making the places – but she stamped herself as very smart in the process.

This is what the finishing speed figures suggest.

1000 Guineas sectional upgrades

The fillies’ race was more evenly-run than the colts’ race, at least judged on those closing stages, with Love completing the last 2f in a time 0.60s (over three lengths) quicker than Kameko had done. There are no major upgrades, though a few further back paid the price late on.

It shouldn’t need me to tell you that Love has excellent credentials for The Oaks at Epsom, where a repeat of this form would see her win more often than not, for she is a short-priced favourite for that now.

As a sister by Galileo to the 2018 Oaks fifth Flattering (who was also fourth in the 14.5f Park Hill Stakes), Love is very likely to stay, and possibly be suited by, the 12f at Epsom. Her striding (26-feet maximum, 2.34/2.20 cadence, here) does little to cast doubt on that.

What I would be reasonably confident about, however, is that Love will face a few rivals at Epsom capable of running to figures higher than 103, which is the limit of what her opposition managed on Sunday. We shall see!      

Sectional Spotlight
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