Sectional Spotlight

Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands analyses both the Poule d'Essai des Poulains and the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches and has fancies in action at York on Thursday and Friday.

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News reaches me from the Asian Racing Conference in Seoul that ITV’s Director of Sport, Niall Sloane, has called for racing to demystify its language in order to attract a bigger audience to television and the racecourse.

This sounds eminently sensible, and has indeed been called for many times before. Racing should be trying to make itself more accessible and intelligible to the newbie.

More than that, though, it should be trying to make itself intriguing. What should not be assumed is that simplifying the message for the newcomer requires passing off racing itself as simple: a lot of its appeal is precisely the opposite.

There is delightful nuance in things like riding tactics, the interplay of pace and position, and in comparisons between performances achieved under different circumstances. All of those involve a degree of complexity that can itself be alluring, rather than off-putting, if framed correctly.

To this end, other comments attributed to Sloane are encouraging. “Racing around the world needs to embrace change”, he said, while it was reported that ITV racing is looking into tracking and timing, in which area “Britain has lagged behind other countries”.

As a by-now veteran of the racing game, I can say that I would not have maintained my level of interest in the sport over the years were it not for the enjoyment that comes from an understanding of the stories associated with timing and other data initiatives.

The fact that this has felt like swimming against a tide of indifference from the authorities and other power-brokers within racing for much of the time is regrettable, but maybe things will change some day.

I dream of a future in which television audiences get that a horse reaching halfway in the 2000 Guineas in, say, under 47.0s has cooked its goose, while one that is out the back in a steadily-run race has a mountain to climb, and to have this gripping reality properly contextualised and unfolding live.

At present, these intriguing sub-plots and races within races are too often being missed in favour of the blindingly obvious. That, as much as unnecessary jargon, is what is selling the sport short, in my opinion.

Feelings ran high at ParisLongchamp on “Guineas” Sunday, when the colts’ race saw the leader U S Navy Flag slipping at halfway and the fillies’ equivalent was eventually switched to the “safer” outer track after several jockeys made their thoughts known.

Christophe Soumillon, in particular, seemed – how shall I put it? – Grande Piste, having had his previous protestations ignored. I am not a fan of Jockey Power on the whole, as the sport should be run by the authorities not the participants, but it seems as though the correct outcome came to pass here.

After the dust had settled, onlookers were left with a couple of rather messy races to pick their way through. Fortunately, while French racing’s officialdom may be lacking in some respects, it has long seen the need for sectional timing of some kind, so that picking becomes easier.

Both contests – which were shown on At The Races – were accompanied by on-screen sectionals for the leaders at 1000m, 600m, 400m and 200m from home, as is customary. After the race, it becomes a matter of estimating margins back in time terms for individual horses at each of these junctures.

The most important of those sectionals in a race of 1600m (just short of a mile) tends to be the 600m one, the details for which appear below.

Poule d'Essai des Poulains, ParisLongchamp, 13/05/2018 (Moyenne Piste)

PosHorseOverallTo 600m600m - line600m FSUpgradeTfigSect Rtg
2HEY GAMAN97.77s62.52s35.25s104.0%2113115
3DICE ROLL97.78s62.81s34.97s104.9%4113117
5U S NAVY FLAG98.18s62.47s35.71s103.1%1106107
6KINGS SHIELD98.20s63.32s34.88s105.6%6106112

Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, ParisLongchamp, 13/05/2018 (Grande Piste)

PosHorseOverallTo 600m600m - line600m FSUpgradeTfigSect Rtg
2COEUR DE BEAUTE97.98s63.49s34.49s106.5%10108118
3WIND CHIMES98.02s63.35s34.67s106.0%8107115
4CAPLA TEMPTRESS98.03s63.21s34.82s105.6%7107114
6MUSIS AMICA98.17s63.62s34.55s106.6%10105115

Comparing the finishing speed as a % of each horse’s average race speed with the course-and-distance par suggests that the “right” horse won the Poulains, and that Olmedo actually did well to do so, but that the result could easily have been different in the Pouliches another day.

The crucial stage in the latter race was from 600m out to 400m out, which the fillies covered in 12.92s compared to the colts in 12.12s: a difference of around five lengths.

This breather meant that positioning and speed were at a premium in the closing stages. Teppal had plenty of the former – she was only just behind the leader – and enough of the latter to hold the late surges of a number of her rivals who had been less forwardly ridden.

In particular, runner-up Coeur de Beaute and never-nearer sixth Musis Amica deserve upgrading, with the latter looking as if she will come into her own at further.

The Poulains and the Pouliches usually contain at least a few good horses, and my guess is that was the case again this year. They just might not all have finished in the right order at the weekend.

The myth that York “is a front-runners’ track”, which is still perpetuated in sections of the media, may ensure that there are favourable odds to be had about some horses there this week which tend to be ridden more patiently.

To be fair, prominent-racers have a decent record in sprints at the Knavesmire. To be fairer still, pace is a race-specific phenomenon and should therefore be viewed in a race-specific manner against the backdrop of wider course characteristics.

The opening handicap on Thursday (due off at 2:20) features such speedballs as El Astronaute and Carlton Frankie, and I think it is worth chancing EDWARD LEWIS to come late and reward each-way support. His stable is in form and he shaped pretty encouragingly on his only outing this term.

The extended 10f handicap on Friday (4:05) has enough early pace to make THUNDERING BLUE an interesting contender under what is likely to be a patient ride. He is still well-treated judged on his emphatic Sandown win last September and caught the eye at Epsom on his recent return.

Sectional Spotlight

York 14:20, 17 May 2018

York 16:05, 18 May 2018

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