Before cracking on with a look back at day three of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, a quick clarification of what I wrote after day two, due to one detail which became apparent only subsequently.
Footpad’s Timeform timefigure of 179 for Tuesday’s sensational Arkle Chase win held the honour of the highest in that company’s history for just 24 hours, as Altior has been awarded a 180 for his Queen Mother Champion Chase win on Wednesday.
It also follows that it is not difficult after all to find a time analyst who regards the Wednesday ground as in the region of 3.0s slower than the Tuesday ground. Times themselves are (or should be) objective: their interpretation sometimes less so.
There is plenty that could be tackled on day three from a timing and sectional point of view, including a fast and visually awesome performance from Laurina in the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novice Hurdle and the fact that Balko des Flos ran the extended two and a half miles of the Ryanair Chase an impressive 4.3s quicker than The Storyteller managed (carrying 6 lb less weight) in the Brown Advisory Plate Handicap Chase two races later.
But the most remarkable comparison of all was undoubtedly between the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle and the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle. Given that the winner of the former, Delta Work, carried 14 lb less than the winner of the latter, Penhill, you might expect similar overall times, with Penhill perhaps slightly quicker. Not a bit of it, as the sectionals for the two horses show.
Cumulative Times, Cheltenham 15/Mar/2018
The Stayers’ Hurdle was astonishingly slowly-run, lagging nearly a furlong (and at one juncture a whole flight) behind the Handicap, and the pace picked up so late that only a little of that deficit could be made up.
As is sometimes observed in flat racing, “the best place to be in a slowly-run race is on the back of a sprinter”. There were no sprinters in the Stayers’ Hurdle, unsurprisingly, but Penhill – a useful mile-and-a-half winner when last seen on the level – proved the closest thing to one in defeating Supasundae by two lengths, despite being held up and going wide at times.
It has to be said that those late sectionals in the Stayers’ – including almost identical ones to the Pertemps Final up the run-in – are not especially impressive given how the runners jogged round for much of the way. But the main conclusion has to be that the Stayers’ is likely to prove as unreliable form as the Pertemps Final is likely to prove the opposite.
It also has to be said that the former race featured a puzzling ride on the favouriteSam Spinner, who had run a fast time by going hard and keeping going to win the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December. Here, he set the funereal pace, made some mistakes, and never had the chance of exploiting his proven stamina.
Fifth place may have been a perfectly good effort in the circumstances, and Sam Spinner could still prove best of these on another day.