The 2017 British turf flat season, which ended at Doncaster on Saturday, was something of a slow-burner. In the early months, there was not that much to get excited about in relative terms. But by the season’s end there were an abnormally large number of legitimate contenders to be crowned Horse of The Year.
You can take your pick from Enable, Cracksman, Battaash and Harry Angel, with the likes of Order of St George, Ribchester, Highland Reel, Ulysses, Lady Aurelia and Marsha not that far behind. At the same time, the likes of Winx and Gun Runner (both repeatedly), and Arrogate (unrepeatedly), reminded us of the very high standards being set further afield.
For many, Enable was the one above all others who lit up the campaign, winning at Epsom, the Curragh, Ascot and York before taking the biggest prize of all – the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – at Chantilly.
It is worth remembering that ENABLE had not even made her debut 12 months ago. That appearance took place on 28 November on the all-weather at Newcastle, something which would not have happened had the track’s opponents had their way.
Racing is about celebrating the champions of the here and now, undoubtedly, but it is also about looking for the next champion. Which prompts the question: “have we seen the next Enable already?”
It is not an easy question to answer, but the chance of identifying a star of the future is improved by the existence of sectional timing at courses like Newcastle in the first place.
Total Performance Data figures had Enable running 23.1s for the last 2f, one of the fastest sectionals by a two-year-old at a mile at the course on record. No youngster has got near that so far this year.
One juvenile in action recently who could go a long way is COME ON TIER, picked out in the last ATR Sectional Spotlight for some exceptionally fast sectionals at Windsor and who has been an impressive 5/1 winner at Nottingham since.
We don’t have TPD sectionals at the latter course, but manual ones suggest Come On Tier should rate in the high 100s and prove Listed or even Group standard. They also suggest that fourth-placed ISPOLINI – favourite for what was his debut but very slowly away – can rate in the high 90s at least and win a similar contest standing on his head.
TPD sectionals have the first two in the fillies’ maiden at Doncaster on 27 October running impressive closing sectionals (both 24.9s for final 2f) in what had been a truly-run race. MRS SIPPY gets a 102 sectional rating from me, which should see her going close at Listed level, while runner-up FICANAS can win a maiden with ease with a sectional rating of 98.
Ficanas is trained by Marco Botti, who may have an even better prospect for 2018 in SPEAK IN COLOURS, winner of a 6f Listed race at the same course on Racing Post Trophy Day. The overall time was useful and Speak In Colours showed Group-class sprinting speed in coming from last to first, including successive furlongs of 11.3s and 11.4s.
Incidentally, TPD sectionals confirm that the Racing Post Trophy itself is form to be taken seriously, with energy distributions (to be found on the “sectional tools” tab on ATR results) for the principals all close to par in a race run in a good overall time.
Roaring Lion ran the quickest individual sectional in the closing stages – 12.0s for the penultimate 1f – but Saxon Warrior was strongest when it mattered at the end (12.9s final 1f). The latter fact is encouraging where Saxon Warrior’s stamina prospects for The Derby are concerned, for all that there is a fair amount of speed on his dam’s side.
The 3.10 at Lingfield Park on Friday – a 6f apprentice handicap – is an unexceptional contest in many respects but stands out in terms of how it is likely to be run. Fully seven of the 11 declared runners led or raced close up on their latest starts, and a few seem to know no other way of racing than going hard from the front.
The expected fast early sectionals should suit something ridden more patiently, and I reckon the top-weight ZENOVIAmay be the one to capitalise. She is in form, effective under the conditions, from an excellent stable and well-drawn to boot.
An altogether better standard of race will be taking place at the course nearly 24 hours later, with the Betway Churchill Stakes a Listed race and a Fast-Track Qualifier for All-Weather Finals Day.
It is difficult to fancy many – due to conditions, absences or form – and VICTORY BOND deserves to be favourite, and at a fairly short price. He accounted for Boynton at Chelmsford City last time and promises to be suited by a truer pace here.