Anyone doubting that efficient pacing improves the likelihood of running a fast time – and a rump of deniers remain – should have squirmed when Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to run a marathon in under two hours at the weekend, aided by metronomic sectionals as well as super shoes.
As runnersworld.com put it “…it was a race run at a clinical rhythm, with most of his kilometre splits not wavering between 2m 48s and 2m 52s…..from 33km to 40km he hit 2m 50s exactly for every split…”
Judging such things is not so hard when you have a posse of pacemakers to assist you and a “par sectional” line projected onto the road in front of you, though the running bit still remains pretty difficult, I guess.
The relevance of this where horseracing is concerned is that, as with humans and super-humans alike, running efficiently maximises a horse’s speed and minimises its overall time, whereas running inefficiently does not.
Both efficiency and inefficiency may be measured, precisely and consistently, through sectionals, and one result is that we have had for some time a theoretical way of adjusting a horse’s overall time to take into account the manner in which it was achieved.
The purpose of a horserace, unlike the purpose of Kipchoge’s marathon, is not to run the fastest possible time – you get no prize for having broken a course record – but to run faster than your rivals, which may not be the same thing.
All the same, the simple fact is that a horse’s athletic ability will be expressed through either its overall time or the sectional times it achieves along the way. Making sense of those times can be the tricky bit.
Unlike Kipchoge’s marathon, racecourses vary significantly in topography, layout and racing surface, all of which affect both overall and sectional times.
Racing cracked this problem ages ago where overall times are concerned by calculating “standard times” which allow for extraneous factors and are (in theory, at least) directly comparable across different circumstances.
The same is possible for sectional times, through computation or estimation. After all, an overall time is really just a sectional time which covers the entirety of a race.
We can see this in practice by considering some of the major races at last weekend’s Future Champions Weekend at Newmarket, though the sectionals themselves had to be derived by advanced video analysis in the absence of official ones.
For each horse is presented its time to 3f out, to 2f out (with the sectional between the two in normal script below), to 1f out (ditto) and at the line (again, ditto).
In addition, the “par”, or optimum, splits needed to run the overall winning times – that we now know, but which the jockeys could not possibly know at the time the races were being run – are included in red below.
In effect, this is the “par sectional line projected onto the road” in Kipchoge’s marathon. Any deviation from this par will affect a horse’s ability to achieve that specified overall time, though theory and practice tells us that small deviations are negligible, or nearly so.
It can be seen that all of the principals in the Fillies’ Mile were ahead of par at the 3f marker, by between 0.94s (in the region of six lengths) for Boomer and 0.65s (about four lengths) for QUADRILATERAL.
The entire field slowed from that point in terms relative to par, but Quadrilateral slowed the least.
Boomer and Love paid most for their prominent positions at the first waypoint, Powerful Breeze most for picking up the baton (as it were) with two successive 11.82s splits when the pace had already been faster than par, and Quadrilateral and Cayenne Pepper were running closest to par in the final furlong.
Conditions were softer on the Saturday than they had been on the Friday, and that is the main reason why MILITARY MARCH reached 3f out over 3.0s slower than Boomer had done 24 hours earlier. But he was also slightly behind par (0.44s, or about two and a half lengths) rather than comfortably ahead of it as the fillies had been.
Thereafter, he and Al Suhail finished well, leaving their flagging rivals further behind, especially in the final furlong.
The overall time of the Autumn Stakes might have been 2.72s slower than the Fillies’ Mile, but it was a good one in the context of the slower conditions, not least due to those efficient splits.
For peak efficiency, however, consider Arizona in that Dewhurst Stakes. He was 0.08s (half a length) behind par 3f out – a negligible amount – the same margin ahead of par 1f later, and held that until wilting slightly in the final, uphill, section.
By comparison, Pinatubo was nearly three lengths further back than “ideal” 3f out, quickened smartly with 11.64s and 11.70s splits to close the gap then get alongside, and continued to respond generously in that final furlong to get readily on top.
The overall time of the Dewhurst was again decent in comparative terms, if not as spectacular as Pinatubo’s National Stakes win at the Curragh had been. A solid pace and two very smart and in-form colts proved too much for some of the rest, notably Monarch of Egypt, whose legs turned to jelly late on.
If Kipchoge is looking for pacemakers to bang out metronomic sectionals for future record attempts, then he could do worse than have a word with Seamie Heffernan, partner of Arizona, though whether the Irish jockey could get the splits right for 26.2 miles and without a horse under him is unclear…..