Sectional Spotlight

Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands has analysed the Arc Trials from ParisLongchamp and looks at the stride lengths for some of the greatest horses in recent history.

  • Monday 16 September
  • Blog
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Horseracing fans are more likely to complain of having had too much of a good thing than too little in recent days.

In amongst a sparkling St Leger winner in Logician, numerous promising performances in Group races, an action-packed Irish Champions Weekend, and a sensational two-year-old performance from Pinatubo, there was the small matter of Arc Trials Day at Longchamp on Sunday. That is a lot to take in!

Arc Trials Day used to be a big thing. It is still quite a big thing, but not a very big thing.

The last Prix Foy winner to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in the same year was Sagace in 1984; the last Prix Vermeille winner to do the same was Zarkava in 2008; and the last Prix Niel winner to follow up a few weeks later was Rail Link in 2006.

That Rail Link victory came at the end of a golden era for the Niel, in which eight of the race’s winners went onto Arc success in the space of just a dozen years. There have been good winners of all three races more recently, just not good winners who carried it through to winning the Arc in the same year.

What the running of three high-level Group races at 2400 metres within a couple of hours of each other does allow us to do is to make direct comparisons between the times and the sectionals of the winners and the also-rans. These are the headline figures.

A reminder that “finishing speed %” is a horse’s speed at the finish of a race – in this case, the final 600 metres – as a % of its speed for the race overall.

That actual finishing speed % is compared to par for the course and distance – 101.3% by my reckoning in this instance – and the upgrade to the time rating for the performance overall arises from the difference between the two.

None of the three trials was strongly-run, but they were not slowly-run, either. Figures in the 103% to 106% region may be compared with last year’s winner figures of 106.0% for the Vermeille, 111.5% for the Foy and 111.3% for the Niel. Now, those last two WERE slowly-run!

The overall times in this year’s trio of Trials were remarkably similar – to within 0.17s, or about a length – but Sottsass comes out comfortably best after weight carried and age is allowed for. Like the other two winners, he gets a small upgrade due to slight inefficiency in the way he ran.

The problem with taking the view that Sottsass’s performance was a potentially Arc-winning one, and that therefore the other two Trial winners ran smart races, is the proximity to him of a couple of “ordinary” types in the Provincial listed winner Mutamakina and the pacemaker Veronesi.

They cannot all be good, though the above assessment is prepared to allow them to be fairly good. By implication, the Foy and Vermeille are not especially good in terms of times and sectionals.

I backed Sottsass for the Arc after his French Derby win, which came in a fast time but which has worked out respectably at best, and am still hopeful, especially as the colt had to squeeze his way through here. But the smart money is on Arc Trials Day having limited bearing on the Arc itself again this year.

Saturday’s William Hill St Leger was a joy to behold, featuring, as it did, a fine and unbeaten winner in Logician and an even finer jockey in Frankie Dettori, riding at the peak of his powers at the age of 48.

It also featured some top-notch post-race analysis for those who watched events on Sky Sports Racing, courtesy of Jamie Lynch and Alex Hammond, who dissected the winner’s striding and sectionals, and who went deep into how Dettori overcame various obstacles along the way.

Thanks to Total Performance Data’s unrivalled coverage in this area – details of which can be found, for a growing number of tracks, in the Results Section of this site – we know that: Logician went into “cruise mode” (2.17 strides/second or under) for the first 10 splits before exploding into action in the home straight; that he ran three consecutive sub-12.0s furlongs thereafter; and that he had comfortably the longest peak average stride length in the field, of 25.4 feet.

That last fact prompted what can be considered to be a new measurement in the world of horseracing analytics: namely, “an Alex Hammond Caravan”.

Alex’s caravan is 25 feet long, apparently. Logician went as high as 25.8 feet at one stage, which is 103.2% of a Caravan, by my reckoning.

That is impressive, but it was not so much Logician’s stride length which did for his rivals, per se, as his ability to sustain it for large sections of the race.

Average peak stride length across the horseracing population is in the region of 24.4 feet (97.6% of an Alex Hammond Caravan) and some horses have managed far in excess of that, particularly when assisted by firm going, as Logician was, an easy section of a track, a steady earlier pace, and, of course, superior ability.

Consider the following peak stride lengths for some of recent history’s greatest horses, derived by me from advanced video analysis.

To borrow a line from “Jaws”: we’re gonna need a bigger vehicle.

From now on, 28.6 feet (114.4% of a Caravan) – Sea The Stars’ monstrous measurement in the penultimate furlong of The Derby – will be referred to as a Winnebago. By me, at least.  

Sectional Spotlight
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