Sectional Spotlight

“How flat was that flat spot, and how fast was what followed?” Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands examines Altior’s victory at Newbury on Saturday.

  • Monday 10 February
  • Blog
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“How flat was that flat spot, and how fast was what followed?”

Those are just two of the questions that were voiced in the immediate aftermath of reigning Champion ChaserALTIOR’s impressive/typical/workmanlike/unimpressive (delete according to your tastes) victory in the Betfair-sponsored Game Spirit Chase at Newbury on Saturday.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, and advances in sectional analysis, such questions may be answered with an accuracy that was not possible before.

Thanks also to ITV Racing’s welcome addition of an on-screen clock, you can have a go at doing the number-gathering yourself, without much effort. Simply pause the pictures at each sectional (obstacles are preferred over jumps) and record the times for the horses(s) you are interested in.

There were some discrepancies between ITV and other pictures on Saturday, but only minor ones, possibly as a result of changing camera angles. The figures quoted here are an average.

That is the easy bit, but in order to convert times into speeds we need distances (speed equals distance over time), and in order to make full sense of those times and speeds we need the context provided by past performances.

For the distance bit, we can turn to Google Earth, a wonderful free facility which is almost as loved by a sectionalista as his or her stopwatch. Google Earth measures distances with great precision and elevations with somewhat less.

This is what I came up with for the Game Spirit Chase.

Altior's vital statistics

The fastest splits came late in the race, and speeds were rather modest earlier on (in order to get miles per hour, simply divide those sec/furlongs into 450, so the run-in was 34.6 mph).

Cadence figures have been derived from advanced video analysis – taken between fences rather than including them or the adjustment going into or straight after them – from which stride length may be deduced (660/(sec/f multiplied by cadence)).   

Google Earth elevations shows that Newbury rises gradually, and almost imperceptibly, from five out to the line, so that topography should scarcely affect stride length late on (predictably, Altior’s longest stride came at the only significant downhill juncture on the course).

Altior went from running 14.5s/furlong between four out and three out to 13.0s/f on the run-in, and it enabled him to win readily, but he touched 1.99 in-running and briefly looked to have a fight on his hands in between.

This is where those cadence figures and stride lengths are especially interesting. Horses accelerate by increasing their leg speed, or their stride length, or both. Altior initially increased the former (from 2.03 strides/second to 2.10), but at a small cost to his stride length.

The latter took a furlong or so to boot in, but by the run-in both stride length and leg speed had increased, to the degree that Altior ran faster and forged clear.

In terms which are more familiar to committed followers of sectionals, Altior ran from three out at a rate 107.6% of his average race speed. That gives rise to a significant sectional upgrade, but one which makes his unexceptional overall time decent rather than better.

He was value an extra couple of lengths over Sceau Royal and about double that over Dynamite Dollars according to established sectional methodology. That is good news for supporters of the horse, but it is difficult to believe he will not need to do more besides to win at Cheltenham next month.

Maybe getting that flat spot out of the way earlier in the race will help. We shall see.

The preceding, including contextualisation, is put on a plate for you at courses at which Total Performance Data exists, and is displayed in the Results Section on this site. It is to be hoped that other broadcasters and courses follow suit.

I thought I would dig a bit deeper into last week’s all-weather figures to try to unearth a couple of the more interesting performances by these measures. Unsurprisingly, for this time of the year, it is modest stuff, but, as the saying goes, little fish too are sweet.

All-Weather sectional upgrading

VAN DIJK was the eye-catcher in that first race, making late headway into a quickening pace, posting 11.57s and 11.84s last 2fs. He had been disappointing previously, tending to start slowly, but these are early days and trainer Antony Brittain (win impact value in handicaps this year of 1.67, with 68.3% rivals beaten) is good with these types.

Van Dijk’s striding (2.44 maximum, 2.22 minimum) is most typical of an 8f/9f performer: this handicap was at 7f and steadily-run.

It remains to be seen what the handicapper makes of the second race, but FAIR STAR did well to win on what was his flat debut (successful at Market Rasen on first of two starts in ordinary bumpers) and is a few lengths better than the result.

He is not slow, as evidenced by 11.72s and 11.90s last 2fs, but his striding (2.29/2.15) and breeding strongly suggest he will be better at 10f/12f than this somewhat muddling 9.5f.  

Sectional Spotlight
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