It is a fair bet that no French race meeting on a Monday has ever commanded such interest from the British and Irish public as the one run this week at ParisLongchamp.
After nearly two months without domestic action – though racing has continued in the US, Hong Kong and Australia at less convenient hours – the response from the Work From Home massive was like that of John Mills in the film “Ice Cold In Alex” when he finally gets to size up and then sink that pint of lager.
The Longchamp meeting, which took place behind closed doors (“huis clos”, as the locals say) and with numerous restrictions, also served as a reminder that a sore head sometimes results from finally getting what you were waiting for: the odds-on favourites Victor Ludorum and Sottsass were turned over, while strongly fancied Khayzaraan finished tailed-off.
The world may be a very different place to the one we once knew, but some things do not change. That includes that results can be analysed in a multitude of ways, not least by using the clock.
Overall times will give you a good idea of what conditions were like – soft but by no means desperate in this instance, despite a deluge – and of how one effort compares to another by such means. But you do not get the full picture unless you take sectionals into account, where you can.
Thankfully, France is one of those enlightened jurisdictions which has on-screen sectionals (and post-race individual ones, though they have proved far less easy to find). Viewers on Sky Sports Racing not only got to see the races unfolding visually, but had live splits to guide them.
TROPBEAU won in an overall time that was 1.73s quicker than THE SUMMIT’s time half an hour earlier, but ran her race much more efficiently – as shown by that finishing speed % (speed in final 400 metres as % of average race speed) being only just quicker than par – and gets a much smaller mark-up as a result.
Her overall time compared quite well with the other 1600-metre races on the card (there were five in all), but there was less than a length between the first three in the Grotte, and less than five lengths between the first six: the form looks very useful, but probably not better than that.
In normal circumstances, I might be looking to oppose Tropbeau at quite a short price for the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, in the expectation that there would be one or two too good for her. But these are not normal circumstances: Tropbeau will turn up with solid rather than exceptional claims, and, perhaps crucially, with a run under her belt.
There is nothing on the sectionals to suggest that Dream And Do or Tickle Me Green are likely to turn the tables. Khayzaraan might well have done too much up front, but the way in which she capitulated more than 400 metres out suggests there was more to her abject effort than that.
While the fillies’ race was pretty honest, the Fontainebleau was something of a mess. The runners crawled until the straight (3.70s, or nearly 20 lengths slower to the 600-metre pole than the Grotte) and The Summit capitalised on his position out front, covering both the last two splits in under 12.0s.
A useful colt, who had started favourite for a Group 1 as a juvenile, The Summit won well enough to suggest this is not a complete throw-out. But sectionals show that Ecrivain and Kenway should have finished closer, while Victor Ludorum and Helter Skelter (who may not have much physical scope) were below their best. The form looks rather weak as well as unreliable.
I would make Victor Ludorum favourite of these were they to meet again – his Lagardere win was at least 10 lb superior to what he showed here, for all that was also a messy race – though he might have offered a bit more on the day and had shown more tactical speed than this previously. The Poulains is scheduled for June 1st and proven fitness could again stand for plenty.
The clock speaks favourably of the Prix d’Harcourt, which was run in an overall time around 4.0s quicker than the two (admittedly run-of-the-mill) handicaps which rounded off proceedings.
SHAMAN received a canny ride, sent to the front but not exerting himself over-much, and came home quicker than any of the Grotte runners, but not quite as fast as runner-up Way To Paris, who is a remarkably versatile horse distance-wise.
Shaman himself had twice been second at Group 1 level at 1600 metres last year and was not going to be easy to catch unless he ran out of fitness and/or stamina, neither of which transpired.
This was a satisfactory enough reappearance by Sottsass, whose Prix du Jockey Club win and Arc third both came in strongly-run races, and who carried a small penalty here into the bargain. I have him rated 124 on a WBRR scale, and a 10-lb under-performance should be forgiven in the circumstances. He has not had a lot of racing, either.
As proof that not all French Group races are steadily- or slowly-run – merely most of them – the opening Prix de Saint-Georges over the straight 1000 metres was run at a strong pace for the conditions, as reflected in both the absolute times and finishing speed %s from 400 metres out.
Those late splits are slower than in the Harcourt, much slower than the Fontainebleau and only a bit quicker than the Grotte. More to the point, finishing speeds of well under 100% show that the early pace was taking its toll late on.
It took its toll fairly equally, but Ken Colt – a 111-rated speedball found out by these conditions on his return – deserves marking up and Red Torch – a former handicapper who has yet to win above Listed grade – was helped a little by coming from the back.
It is also possible that there was a track bias in that the principals finished nearer the centre, though if it existed, in which case it will have counted most against Tour To Paris and 113-rated Sestilio Jet, it was probably small.
There were, in summary, not many huge insights into the action in timing terms on this particular occasion, but we do not have much to go on at present and every little helps. It is better to know about the nuances of pace, positioning, speed and stamina, than to be in ignorance.
And it is better to be writing about and analysing some real action, closer to home, than not to be, too!