Sectional Spotlight

Simon has analysed the respective victories of Tiger Roll in the Grand National at Aintree and Ghaiyyath in the Group 2 Prix d’Harcourt at Longchamp and has a selection online for Newbury on Friday.

  • Wednesday 10 April
  • Blog
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The 2019 Randox Health Grand National had its downsides as well as its upsides, most notable among the former being the death of Up For Review, who was brought down at the first.

This was the first fatality in the race since significant safety improvements prior to the 2013 running and is deeply to be regretted. However, it can be pointed out that the fatality rate in the modern Grand National, at 0.32%, is now fractionally below the 0.40% quoted for British jump racing more widely.

If further changes are to be made, it may be in field-sizes, which are correlated more widely with fallers, which are in turn correlated with fatal events.

One consequence of the alterations is that many more horses are now involved later in the race. Seven fallers/brought downs/unseateds this year was the smallest number since 1996, when only 27 started.

There was not a single such casualty this year after that first fence until the third on the final circuit. Fully 84% of fences have claimed the same or a smaller proportion of casualties (from those still in the race at the time) in the seven years since the changes than in the 17 years before.

One thing that was not obviously a problem this year was the pace, which was just on the steady side under what were quite quick conditions by the race’s standards.

We can gauge this by comparing the by-fence sectionals with those for other winners from 2013 onwards, adjusting previous overall times on a pro-rata basis to the overall time Tiger Roll ran on Saturday.

This shows that Tiger Roll – who was between five and eight lengths behind the leader over the first 11 fences and within three and a half lengths from the nineteenth onwards – was personally “behind par” right up until near the end.

His 92.1s from three out (6.28f from the finish) was the fastest in absolute terms by a winner since Don’t Push It (91.3s) in 2010. But, crucially, he made up the shortfall steadily, and at no stage especially inefficiently, under a typically astute ride from Davy Russell.   

The four-and-a-bit miles of the Grand National requires stamina which few possess, but it also calls for speed and the nimbleness to avoid trouble in a large pack when the race unfolds like it did this year.

Tiger Roll may be small in size, but he is a towering giant in all the ways that really matter nowadays where the world’s most famous horserace is concerned.

If you were putting your feet up on Sunday, you may have missed one of the most exciting performances in recent times in France, in the form of GHAIYYATH’s win in the Group 2 Prix d’Harcourt at Longchamp, covered exclusively in Britain by Sky Sport Racing. It is well worth a watch.

The Godolphin-owned and Charlie Appleby-trained four-year-old made all and would have won by several lengths were it not for being heavily eased near the line.

It looked a monstrous performance, and on-screen sectionals mean we can dissect it in detail. The conclusions for Ghaiyyath are favourable, but perhaps not quite as much so as immediate reactions justify.

It can be seen that Ghaiyyath did not have to go especially fast to build up his lead – he came back in 104% of his average race speed despite coasting in the final 100m – and that Soleil Marin and (to a lesser extent) Intellogent were left too far out of their ground.

Soleil Marin, a Group 3 winner at Saint-Cloud the time before, gets a big upgrade on account of that 108.4% finishing speed being a long way from par. His 34.07s last 600m was the fastest on the card by some margin.

Nonetheless, Ghaiyyath gets a 120 sectional rating, in part because those sectionals suggest he could have run faster still and even more because of the degree to which he was eased.

One last interesting aspect of Ghaiyyath’s performance was his stride, which video analysis shows to have been enormous. A peak of 26.7 feet is not far off Frankel (27.3 feet) territory, while Ghaiyyath’s cadence of between 2.17 and 2.38 strides per second calls into question whether he will be quite as effective at further.

Ghaiyyath is already as short as 12/1 for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe back on this course in October.

The flat is back. No, really, the flat is back.

The couple of weeks since the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster has been something of a phoney war, with little of consequence going on in Britain, at least. But that is about to change.

There are Guineas trials at Newbury on Saturday and at Newmarket next week, plus other important contests imminent. And it should also be well worth paying close attention to the DDF Golf World Cup British EBF Conditions Stakes at Newbury at 4:10 on Friday.

This is the race in which a filly called Enable finished third a couple of years ago, and one of 11 in a really strong-looking field this time round is my outside hope for the Derby, the Charlie Appleby-trained SPACE BLUES.

The Dubawi colt turned in lightning quick sectionals on his only start and only win, at Nottingham last November, running sub-12.0s for each of the last 4f (including a 11.05s penultimate one), despite the ground being on the easy side, if not as slow as reported in some quarters.

Unless I am mistaken, he is a Group performer in the making, though he may well have to be to see off the likes of the promising Headman and Stormwave and the more established Turgenev and Waldstern. My fingers are crossed!

Sectional Spotlight

Newbury 16:10, 12 April 2019

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