It is the time of the year for me to put my neck on the line again. I wrote on these pages roughly 12 months ago that I saw Too Darn Hot as primarily a miler and certainly not as a Derby horse.
That might not seem such a big deal now, but the colt was favourite at as short as 5/2 for Epsom at the time. And it threatened to blow up in my face when he traded at long odds-on approaching the final furlong of the Dante Stakes at York in May.
Fortunately, Too Darn Hot remembered in the nick of time that he was not cut out to be a middle-distance performer and emptied to finish second to Telecaster.
Back at seven furlongs and a mile, and following a couple of honourable defeats, he won the Prix Jean Prat at Deauville and the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, both of them Group 1s.
The thing with Too Darn Hot is that he strode quickly, far more quickly than most mile-and-a-half horses do. My research shows that most horses’ cadences vary little over time and are more or less set early in their careers.
As the following graphic shows, Too Darn Hot’s maximum stride frequency (aka “cadence”) at two years fell comfortably outside the range shown by recent Derby winners. Those blue dots show the median distances at which in-form older horses with different cadences are to be found.
Cadence is strongly associated with stamina – sprinters need to stride quickly, but striding quickly will limit a horse’s ability to stay – and is easily isolated, whereas stride length (which is more associated with ability) is affected by many extraneous factors and is difficult to contextualise.
There are no “gimmes” quite like Too Darn Hot for striding analysts this time round, but the way in which some of 2019’s top juveniles strode reveals plenty about what can be expected of them in their classic season.
I will focus on three here, and they cover the short-priced favourite for the 2000 Guineas, the second-favourite for that race, the longer-priced favourite for The Derby and the favourite for the 1000 Guineas and The Oaks. All striding figures have been derived using sophisticated video-editing software.
PINATUBO is Too Darn Hot v2, in that he strides most like a 7f/8f performer and not like a 12f one. One crucial difference, of course, is that fewer people see him as a Derby horse than was the case with his predecessor: he is 7/1 for Epsom at the time of writing.
Another interesting feature of Pinatubo’s striding is how quickly he gets to peak cadence – each of those maximum figures came in his opening furlong – and that is often a feature of horses who do well on dirt (and fibresand, though I don’t think we will be seeing him on that), on which increased traction helps to get a horse quickly up to full speed.
Pinatubo looks a solid proposition for the 2000 Guineas, but an unlikely winner of the Derby.
Read those cadence maximums and weep. A figure of 2.70 strides/second is remarkably high and seen only occasionally outside the Breeze-Up world. Just 237 of 43,504 cases (0.5%) in the TPD Archive to the middle of November operated at 2.70 or higher, and just three of those were to be found running at further than 7f.
EARTHLIGHT’s striding steadied thereafter, a bit, but is still most typical of an out-and-out sprinter. As with Pinatubo, Earthlight’s sectionals back up the distance indicators to be gleaned from his leg speed.
Earthlight is second favourite behind Pinatubo for the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, both of them owned by Godolphin. I think he will fail to stay even if he does turn up.
QUADRILATERAL is a bit trickier. Those maximum cadence figures are quite high, but those minimum ones are a good deal lower. Nonetheless, they point to Quadrilateral’s being more of a Guineas filly than an Oaks filly, though she may just get stuck somewhere in between.
I have a theory that a wide range of cadence figures (Quadrilateral’s are wider than the other two’s) allows greater tactical versatility. Quickening comes from one or both of two sources – increased stride frequency and/or increased stride length – and being able to stride steadily as well as quickly gives a wider range of options as well as conserves energy.
The absolute master/mistress of this was the great Australian mare Winx, who I measured manually at as high as 2.61 (sprinting territory) and as low as 2.30 (which enabled her to last out 10f): that is a range almost exactly double the average horse using those TPD Archive figures.
A reminder that electronically derived striding figures – cadence and stride length – exist in the ATR Results Section for all courses covered by TPD. It is possible, with practice and technology, to do your own, but having them put on a plate is a whole lot better!