Sectional Spotlight

Simon Rowlands has analysed the pick of the action from the first two days of Cheltenham with sectional comparisons of the Supreme and Champion Hurdle plus the Ballymore and the Coral Cup.

  • Wednesday 13 March
  • Blog
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One distinguishing characteristic of the people I know who regularly make money from betting on horseracing is their ability to consider what has happened and not just what may be about to happen.

Not for them the addict’s quest to find the next bet without even a passing thought about where things went wrong, or right, with the previous one. They appreciate that winners in the future will emerge from understanding the past: analysis is an investment in that future, if you like.

So, in among the endless chatter about what will win the day’s big races, it is good to find time for some quiet reflection on what has gone. To look back, as it were, only not in anger.

What can we learn from the action on the Old Course on the first two days of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival from a timing and sectionals point of view? A great deal, is the answer, and the following will only scratch the surface.

The most obvious comparison to make on Day One was between the Unibet Champion Hurdle, won by ESPOIR D’ALLEN, and the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, won by KLASSICAL DREAM.

Thanks to electronic timing at the start as well as the finish – a first for jumps racing in Britain – we know that the former ran the two miles and 87 yards just 0.49s (two to three lengths) faster than the latter. The following, from video analysis, shows how the two winners’ obstacle-to-obstacle sectionals broke down.

The Champion was run at a much stronger early pace. The 4.0s differential for the two winners at the third flight, the first in the back straight (at which Buveur D’Air fell), is about 20 lengths and Espoir d’Allen was several lengths off the lead at the time to boot.    

The novices made up some of that leeway mid-race, by which time Klassical Dream had tanked into the lead, and were also faster late on. Indeed, the principals in the Supreme were much faster late on than those in the Champion bar Espoir d’Allen himself.

Espoir d’Allen ran from three out in a speed identical to his average speed for the race overall, which is close to peak efficiency even on an up-and-down and round-the-bend course like Cheltenham. His rivals all finished slowly, with finishing speeds of 95% or less of their average race speeds.

Espoir d’Allen’s winning margin was exaggerated as others slowed, in other words. I have him an up-to-scratch Champion Hurdle winner, but what he was beating was poor on the day by the great race’s usual standards. It is interesting to note that all of the first six in the Supreme would have finished ahead of the runner-up in the Champion in raw time terms.

My conclusion, besides the somewhat obvious one that the record-margin winner of the Champion is a good horse, is that the first three in the Supreme are at least smart themselves. Their overall times were strong and their own finishing speeds (between 102% and 103%) point to a mark-up of a few pounds.

Klassical Dream is a serious Champion Hurdle contender for 2020, and not just because he has only 3 lb and two to three lengths to make up on Espoir d’Allen in simple comparative terms.

It is possible to investigate the times and sectionals of the Racing Post Arkle Chase won by Duc Des Genievres on Tuesday and the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase won by Altior on Wednesday, but a couple of factors make such simple comparisons redundant.

The distance of the latter race was increased due to rail movement, albeit by only 16 yards, but more to the point the ground seemed around 18 lb quicker on the second day than on the first (and a bit more again than that on the hurdles track).

Duc Des Genievres’s 3m 58.60s is taken from video after that electronic timing briefly malfunctioned, while Altior’s almost-identical 3m 58.54s is kosher: the latter was about 0.3s faster from three out but fully 1.1s quicker on the run-in. Altior carried 6 lb more into the bargain.   

An easier one-on-one comparison is provided by CITY ISLAND’s win in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and WILLIAM HENRY’s in the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle, both at two miles five furlongs and eight yards on the Wednesday.

Given that the first two came from twentieth and twenty-third at the top of the hill in the latter, it might be imagined that the leaders went too fast, but that would be mistaken. The race finishing speed was a fairly fast 103% while the Ballymore was a close-to-par 100.5%. This is how the individual sectionals look.

This is another case in which the novices look good on the clock, with the first three or four probably in the 150s on times and sectionals combined.

William Henry comes out about 7 lb worse than City Island on overall times, but his finishing effort – especially that 13.84s on the uphill run-in of about 200 yards – shows that he is better than the bare facts suggest.

Every race at the Cheltenham Festival could be analysed in this amount of detail or more, aided by those electronic overall times finally provided by British racing. Contrary to what some imagine, times and sectionals count for a lot over jumps, providing you can allow for the circumstances in which they were recorded.

I will be back after Friday’s racing to put another few races under the sectional microscope.


Sectional Spotlight
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