Sectional Spotlight

Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands analyses the fourth annual All-Weather Championship Finals Day which took place at Lingfield Park on Good Friday.

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If there are still any naysayers around concerning the All-Weather Championships and Finals Day itself, then they seem to be keeping a low profile. Perhaps they popped along to Lingfield Park on Good Friday, when over 10,000 attended the fourth AW Finals Day, or to Bath or Newcastle, on what has quickly become a popular day in the Racing Calendar.

Those at Lingfield Park were treated to some particularly high-quality racing and exciting action, along with the crowning of some of the season’s champions.

Finals Day is, in one respect, the end of a successful tale. But, as is often the case with horseracing, it also provides the start of many other stories which will play out in the weeks and months ahead: the day’s winners and losers will become losers and winners in the future.

In order to sort the wheat from the chaff, it is necessary to understand what went on and why. One important aspect of that process is to consider sectional times, which have been illuminating the all-weather scene throughout the winter.

Total Performance Data’s groundbreaking GPS-based sectionals have been available in recent months on the atttheraces.com website, where they have been put into context by comparison with course-and-distance pars and highlighted with colour-coded heatmaps and other features.

TPD’s sectionals were up for Good Friday’s action straight after each event, and they reveal some interesting truths. Before looking at the races individually, however, it is worth taking an overview of all seven at once. That way, the differences in pace and achievement will be clearer.

The following table gives the headline figures for the races, plus the overall timefigures (my own) achieved by the winners.

 Race  Winner  Distance  Overall time  Race last 2f  Race Fin Spd%  Win timefigure
 1  FORCEFUL APPEAL  7.00f  83.06s  22.6s  105.1%  84
 2  WINNING STORY  15.77f  195.18s  22.9s  108.3%  106
 3  REALTRA  7.00f  83.47s  21.9s  108.9%  72
 4  KIMBERELLA  6.00f  69.36s  22.8s  101.5%  114
 5  SOVEREIGN DEBT  8.00f  95.90s  22.1s  108.5%  81
 6  SECOND THOUGHT  6.00f  70.08s  22.6s  103.4%  106
 7  CONVEY  10.00f  122.16s  22.6s  106.9%  93

Those finishing speed %s – the speed in the last 2f as a % of the average speed for the race overall – show that most of the finishes were relatively fast, with the exceptions being the Betway AW Sprint won by Kimberella and the 32Red 3YO Stakes won by Second Thought. It is no coincidence that these well-run races produced two of the best timefigures for the winners.

The other fast timefigure was recorded by Winning Story, who broke the track best in the Betway Marathon, though it was not the most demanding record in the book and staying races do tend to feature steadier early gallops and higher finishing speed %s than at shorter distances.

The high finishing speed %s in other races are a reflection of their having been relative tests of speed at the business end. All other things being equal, it should not have been easy to make up ground from the rear in such circumstances.

That made the difference between wafer-thin success and defeat in the opening Sunbets AW Apprentice Handicap, in which FORECEFUL APPEAL (22.4s) ran slower in the final 2f than the second War Glory (22.0s), third Charles Molson (22.1s), and even the ninth Hakam (21.8s), but had superior track position and prevailed.

There was some trouble in running in that race, and again in the Betway Marathon, but there is no indication that WINNING STORY was anything other than a deserving winner of the latter. He and Watersmeet – first and second the other way round in a Fast-Track Qualifier at Chelmsford City in March – were particularly quick from 3f out to 1f out.

The 32Red AW Fillies’ And Mares’ was a notably tactical race, in which an undemanding early pace steadied further mid-race before a burn-up for the line. The first three home are more superior to their rivals than the bare result, and Muffri’ha and Ashadihan (both 21.6s for the final 2f) probably should have finished slightly ahead of the winner REALTRA (21.8s).

Just how fast those finishes at 7f were is illustrated by the fact that KIMBERELLA ran 22.3s for the same sectional in winning the furlong-shorter Betway AW Sprint. Runner-up Gracious John seemed to go hard, but he only briefly went faster than par, and even then only marginally, as his individual colour-coded sectionals show.

There were no excuses on the grounds of sectionals in the Sprint, though the draw and an ability to get away quickly, or otherwise, seemed to play a role.

Arguably the ride of the card came in defeat by Ryan Moore on Salateen, third in the Sunbets AW Mile. The fractions he set, especially a couple of over-12.0s furlongs mid-race, were far from demanding and nearly saw him nick it.

Nonetheless, SOVEREIGN DEBT and Nimr managed to run him down, with the latter slightly quicker than the former at 21.5s for the final 2f (and quickest on the whole card): Nimr was probably slightly unfortunate. Sovereign Debt had been the unlucky one on previous Finals Days and this was a deserved change of fortune for him.

Incidentally, the never-dangerous Keystroke ran the fastest individual furlong on the whole card – of 10.5s (42.9 mph) in the penultimate one – but could finish only sixth: he’s worth forgiving this defeat.

SECOND THOUGHT won the 32Red 3YO Stakes by only half a length, but did so with some fast closing sectionals – as, indeed, he had done in his previous wins – and is probably a cut above his rivals, especially as 7f suits him at least as well as this 6f.

A listed winner already, Second Thought could easily make his mark in Group company if taking to turf.

A turn of foot proved important in the Betway Easter Classic but the formerly quirky CONVEY might well have won however things unfolded given the authority with which he took this. Third-placed Allez Henri was slightly quicker late on and did his French connections proud.

Class will out, or it tends to in cases like Convey’s, but most races are decided by fine margins, and the pace at which they are run can tip the balance crucially one way or the other. That is not easy to predict, but TPD sectionals mean that these things can be measured accurately, and objectively, after the event.

Those TPD sectionals are currently being rolled out more widely at some turf courses (Doncaster and Windsor have already featured), and the same principles and same ATR tools will be applied to them.

This “ATR Sectional Spotlight” blog will continue to appear, if a bit less frequently, in the months ahead. Thanks for reading! 

Sectional Spotlight
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