One of the beauties of horse racing analysis is that there are many different ways in which to skin the metaphorical cat. Form, times, draw, trainers, jockeys, sectionals, trends, pedigrees, race-reading, paddock observation: the astute punter uses a combination of such elements, and quite possibly others besides, in what is a multi-factorial discipline.
One largely unexplored angle, until now, has been striding. In the most basic terms, the speed at which a horse gets from A to B is determined by how long its stride is and how frequently it turns that stride over: it is that simple.
Deducing this information from video analysis is possible, if laborious. For instance, by my calculations, Frankel’s stride maxed out at 27.3 feet when he won the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in 2011. Frankel’s son Cracksman registered 26.1 feet in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York in 2017. Both those figures are far in excess of what ordinary horses manage most of the time.
At the same time, Frankel’s stride frequency – or cadence – was 2.4 per second while Cracksman’s was 2.2. Those are much less remarkable figures, as shall be seen.
Interestingly, the first two in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup had similarly long strides (I had Might Bite at 27.7 feet at one stage) but their cadence did not rise above 2.1 strides per second, at least where it was possible to measure this accurately.
There is a conclusion to be drawn from this, which is that cadence is linked to stamina whereas stride length (which when multiplied by cadence gives you speed) is more obviously associated with ability. Where the former is concerned, it may be all but impossible to sustain a high stride frequency over a long period, however good the horse in question is.
I would go further and suggest that stride length will be affected by things like the state of the surface and topography of the course but that cadence is more “hard wired” and does not vary by as much, whatever the circumstances.
Try as you might, you will struggle to increase your stride turnover (which is limited by the speed of signals from your brain and the mechanics of your legs), but stride length may be another matter.
Fortunately, due to the existence of Total Performance Data striding figures – to be found on the “Stride Data” tab of the results on attheraces.com – it is possible to test such theories as they relate to racehorses in a competitive environment. Where cadence is concerned, the preliminary evidence supports the theory.
I took the peak average stride frequency (as to be found on the same tab) of the first three home in all TPD-covered races in the first week of April and compared them to the distance at which the horses were running. These were the results.
There was quite a bit of “noise” around those averages, but by using an Inter-Quartile Range (the figures which appear between 25% and 75% from the extremes of a sample) it is possible to suggest that a horse capable of a cadence of 2.43 or higher is likely to be a sprinter, that in order to stay beyond a mile a horse’s peak cadence ideally needs to be below 2.40, and that peak cadence ideally needs to be 2.35 or less for a horse to be fully effective at 12f or further.
What does this matter? Well, a significant part of racing – especially at this time of the year on the flat – is about predicting which horses will cope with increases in distance. You have pedigrees and some other factors to guide you, but you now also have the beginnings of sophisticated stride analysis.
I hope to be able to calculate cadence for some of the classic generation as they reappear in the weeks to come, and will be looking for slower (and longer) striders with The Derby and The Oaks in mind. As a matter of interest, I have Saxon Warrior – favourite for the 2000 Guineas and The Derby – showing a peak cadence of 2.36 in the closing stages of last year’s Racing Post Trophy.
There are a few things which remain unclear at this stage, including the degree to which cadence changes (or doesn’t) as a horse matures and whether there is a better measure than peak cadence by which to judge these things.
Learning about the subject in coming years should be an end in itself, but cat-skinning is more fun if you can make it profitable along the way, of course!
LADY PRANCEALOT (2.44 peak cadence at Lingfield on only run) gets to go in the opener at 5:45 at Chelmsford City on Thursday, when her chief rival looks to be Harperelle, who peaked at 2.53 strides/second when runner-up at Newcastle on her only start.
Harperelle ran a better time figure that day, by my reckoning, but the late sectionals posted by Lady Prancealot – 10.8s for each of the last two furlongs – persuades me that she is the superior runner at this stage and worth siding with here.
Connections will be hoping that Dotted Swiss can follow up her recent 5f Lingfield success in the 6:45 at Kempton on Friday, and visually she looked likely to be suited by the extra furlong she will encounter here. But I am not so sure, as she showed sharp pace mid-race (and a 2.49 cadence) in a well-run affair that day.
Either way, this race, with plenty of pace-forcers in attendance, could be set up for a closer. The one I like is CURIOUS FOX, who is worth siding with each-way in this nine-runner field.