Sectional Spotlight

Simon Rowlands compares the sectional data from French 2000 and 1000 Guineas won by Persian King and Castle Lady, respectively. Simon also looks forward to this week's Dante Stakes from a striding perspective.

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The modern racing fan needs to know his or her foreign racing if they are not to be found out when stars from abroad descend on Royal Ascot and other major British racing occasions.

Besides that, there can be much to entertain and engage in following events from a bit further afield, especially on a day, like Sunday, when British racing had no flat racing to offer. In the middle of May.

Longchamp filled the void with a card of substance, featuring the French equivalents of the 2000 and 1000 Guineas. Both races went to Godolphin-owned favourites, but you are going to need to know a lot more than that if you want to place the performances in a wider context of the European racing season.

Fortunately, racing in France – which is covered exclusively in Britain by Sky Sports Racing these days – has sectional timing, with the leaders’ times displayed on-screen, and it is a fairly simple job to figure out individual sectionals from that information.

The following are what Sunday’s sectionals and overall times tell us about Persian King, winner of the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, and Castle Lady, winner of the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, as well as about those they beat.

First, a few general observations. The ground was nowhere near the “heavy” returned officially, but more like “good to soft” (and not especially testing at that) judged on times, which included that 98.98s for 8f by Persian King and a 82.50s later on for a Listed race at the shortened 7f. 

The Poulains resulted in a 1.93s (over 10 lengths) faster overall time than the Pouliches but the latter was a bit faster in the closing stages, which bridged some of the gap in terms of time-based ratings.

Sectional upgrading results from the difference between a horse’s finishing speed (speed in last 3f as a % of speed for race overall) and par for course and distance, which is just over 101% in this instance.

The colts’ race was a pretty fair contest, in terms of sectionals, with runner-up Shaman almost bang on par and the other principals slightly quicker than it.

If you were a bit disappointed that Persian King did not win with more authority, then that is understandable. I had him running a 122 sectional rating when he won the Fontainebleau here easily on his reappearance, and he had beaten the Newmarket Guineas winner Magna Grecia (now rated 123) fair and square, if narrowly, at two years.

Maybe even an easy surface prevented Persian King from running to his absolute best. Incidentally, his striding signature (gauged from advanced video analysis) was very similar to last year, which is what you would expect, and is most typical of a 9f performer.

Persian King may get away with it in the Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby) at 10.4f but I would not be having him as an Arc candidate.

There was just a nose in it between Castle Lady and Commes at the line, and it could have gone the other way on sectionals. Castle Lady is smart but will have to raise her game further to remain unbeaten against the best three-year-old filly milers more widely.

Talk of striding signatures brings us neatly onto the Dante Stakes at York on Thursday, in which last year’s unbeaten Champion Two-Year-Old Too Darn Hot will put both his ability and his stamina under the microscope.

You may recall that Too Darn Hot revved as highly as 2.50 strides/second in the Solario Stakes at Sandown, 2.49 in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket and 2.44 (according to TPD) in between in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster.

That does not denote the sort of relaxation customarily seen in a middle-distance horse (2.32 or lower is), and is a quicker cadence than shown by Saxon Warrior and Roaring Lion – to give just two examples of horses who probably failed to stay 12f in the Derby at Epsom – this time last year. 

Among those likely to be up against Too Darn Hot is the highly promising Surfman, a major market mover in recent days. The two horses are anything but similar.

No TPD sectionals or striding information exists for Surfman’s 14-length romp at Newcastle last time, but it is possible to deduce some from video analysis.

This shows that Surfman ran the penultimate furlong that day in approximately 11.55s, that his stride maxed out at 26.1 feet at the same stage (Too Darn Hot has not been recorded above 25.2 feet) and that he strides slowly (maximum cadence of 2.19) and like a horse who will be suited by at least 12 furlongs.

It will be a contrast in styles, if nothing else. While Too Darn Hot undoubtedly has a clear edge over Surfman on form, that one is making giant strides in both a literal and a metaphorical sense, and there are plenty of other dangers to consider also.

I will be previewing the Dante Stakes, as well as all the other major action at York and on Saturday, on these pages after declarations are known.  

Sectional Spotlight
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