An interest in – or an obsession with, according to some – sectional times can take you to some unexpected places. Last Thursday, it took me to Clonmel in South-East Ireland: not physically, you understand, but via the wonders of broadcast media and the internet.
On an otherwise nondescript day’s racing at one of the country’s minor tracks, one winning performance stood out like a sore thumb. The odds-on Willie Mullins-trained newcomer LORD ROYAL won a Maiden Hurdle by 33 lengths in what looked like a really good time.
The effort received limited coverage, probably on account of where and when it took place, though the trainer’s representative was glowing in his praise afterwards. Lord Royal was introduced into the betting for both the Albert Bartlett and the Ballymore Novices' Hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival.
I looked into the performance in more detail.
That “really good time” indeed proved to be several seconds quicker than that put up by the useful Tiger Tap Tap in the preceding minor hurdle and the best part of a furlong quicker than Difficult Decision in the concluding handicap. Lord Royal carried more weight than that pair into the bargain.
That translates into an overall time fully 32 lb quicker than 134-rated Tiger Tap Tap and 55 lb quicker than 101-rated Difficult Decision.
Neither of those other races was well-run, but you might be forgiven for thinking that Lord Royal’s race was not either, given how quickly he finished, as can be seen from the late splits.
So, Lord Royal got to the path, just over 2f from home, nearly 20 lengths and over 30 lengths ahead of those other two winners, and then proceeded to come home about 10 lengths quicker than them anyway.
It is possible to put a figure on Lord Royal that almost goes off the scale, once those late sectionals are allowed for. In the end, I have been more cautious and gone for a 145 rating, which is still nearly good enough to win an average Albert Bartlett and is good enough to run well in an average Ballymore.
The former race looks the more obvious target, especially in view of Lord Royal’s strong late splits. Having got a breather on the long run from three out, he was powering away at the finish, despite an uphill run-in and heavy ground. I can’t wait to see him again!
A pace profile of a very different kind was in evidence at Wolverhampton on Monday, when the latest Fast-Track Qualifier for All-Weather Finals Day took place.
Detailed Total Performance Data figures will be up shortly on the At The Races Results Section for that meeting but we already have a good idea of what unfolded from the on-screen splits while the races were being run.
Thus it was that, live, you could see three of the first four sections for the two-mile Betway Conditions Stakes were colour-coded blue for “slow”, while from 5f out to 2f out they were all red or “fast”.
The latter was the point at which Hollie Doyle grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck on RAINBOW DREAMER, who brushed aside a below-par Raymond Tusk in the lead and got a significant jump on his only remaining main rival Funny Kid.
Rainbow Dreamer was about five lengths clear of Funny Kid 2f out, with Maxime Guyon on the latter now trying to reduce the deficit, and was not for catching with 11.96s and 12.53s concluding splits.
Funny Kid had reduced the margin slightly to three and a half lengths (0.6s) by the line but never got in a blow.
The individual sectionals, using those on-screen headline ones and the margins between the horses just before the 2f marker, suggest Funny Kid could be upgraded 4 lb more than the winner, which is almost exactly the theoretical amount by which he was beaten.
On such marginal differences and matters of jockey judgement, and much smaller ones too of course, are races won and lost.
A few words on the recent announcement that Nick Rust – Head of the sport’s governing body, the British Horseracing Authority – is to step down at the end of the year.
Rust was not always everyone’s cup of tea, and I personally disagreed with him on a few matters (including his organisation’s support for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals). But I regard him as a man of vision and personal integrity who has done a lot of good already.
In particular, where this column is concerned, it is unlikely that Levy Board part-funding for sectional timing would have happened without his support, and the Horseracing Bettors Forum – which seeks to represent the interests of those who bet on British horseracing – would almost certainly not have come into being without his efforts.
Some of Rust’s predecessors talked the talk about punters and their importance to racing, Rust also walked the walk. His will be big boots to fill.