Sectional Spotlight

Simon Rowlands gives a detailed appraisal of the principals in this year’s Champion Bumper from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective.

  • Wednesday 18 March
  • Blog
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Timeform’s founder Phil Bull memorably described horseracing as “The Great Triviality”. In comparison to other events in the world the “trivial” aspect has seldom seemed truer.

But the “great” element deserves to be emphasised, too. As Bull also said “man seeks a purpose to his existence”, and horseracing and betting is where many find some of that purpose.

Horseracing is a vast industry but it also works on a deeply personal level. Which of us has not had an extra spring in the step in anticipation of a big day’s racing or in reflection of a nice bet just landed?

The future may be difficult for many of us. Horseracing in Britain has been put on hold – rightly, as far as I can tell – and that will come at a big cost to those closely involved and at a smaller but not negligible cost to us fans.

But it will be back, so let’s be ready for it when it is.  

Some of the stars of last week’s Cheltenham Festival may not be around for much longer when horseracing resumes, but the horses who contested the Weatherbys Champion Bumper should have a long future. They, and that race, are the focus of this week’s ATR Sectional Spotlight.

How good was the Champion Bumper? Pretty good, I would say. It was run in a time 6.4s quicker than the Boodles Juvenile (in which the runners had to jump eight hurdles, of course) where the average in the previous five years had been 4.0s on my figures.

Appreciate It had good timefigures to his name already, courtesy of emphatic wins at Leopardstown, Queens Brook had walked away with a race at Gowran, and Third Time Lucki looked just about the best of the British beforehand. But none of them could hold off a much-improved FERNY HOLLOW.

Here is how the Champion Bumper unfolded compared to the hurdles races on the first two days (on which time analysis suggests conditions were very similar) using the leaders’ splits. A figure highlighted in red is the fastest in that section, while blue is slowest.

Champion Bumper

The pace of the Champion Bumper was pretty tepid early on, reaching that first sectional (the second “flight” as it were) 2.7s – or over 10 lengths – behind the Boodles, but it was far more honest mid-race and neither especially fast nor especially slow late on.  

The race finishing speed for the Bumper from where two out would have been – a distance I estimated at 843 yards (3.83f) using video and Google Earth – was 98.8% of the average race speed, which is very close to par, even if it was preceded by a pace that was less even.

In that context, the fact that both Ferny Hollow and Third Time Lucki brought up the rear early on should not have helped them, though they were well enough placed just behind the leading group when it mattered.

I have useful timefigures and sectionals combined on the principals, though only after treating the later races on the card a bit differently to the earlier ones. Ferny Hollow’s 142 figure is one of the best by a bumper horse in recent years, one behind Envoi Allen’s win in this race 12 months previously, level with Moon Racer in 2015 and two ahead of Fayonagh (2017) and Briar Hill (2013).

The following are more detailed appraisals of the principals in this year’s Champion Bumper from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective (credit to Timeform for pedigree details).

FERNY HOLLOW (142) is a son of the high-class stayer and Arc runner-up Westerner, from the family of the Champion Hurdle winners Granville Again and Morley Street, and has already won a point. He showed more speed than his rivals when it mattered in the Champion Bumper, but more ability all round, and looks a good prospect for jumps, for all that he has worn a hood and needs to settle better.   

APPRECIATE IT (138) seemed to be beaten on merit here, but had run at least as quickly at Leopardstown the time before in a race which tested stamina even more clearly (most runners well below 100% finishing speed). A son of Jeremy – a flat horse but a very successful jumps sire – and from a good jumps family, he had the joint-slowest cadence of the principals here (measured early in the home straight) and promises to be a major force over jumps at 20f plus.

QUEENS BROOK (129) lacked experience with only one run under her belt previously and should still do better, fading the most of the principals late on (95.9% finishing speed). A half-sister by Shirocco to the smart staying chaser Shotgun Paddy, she strode quite quickly (2.19 strides/second) in this but can be expected to stay well, and be pretty good, in due course.

THIRD TIME LUCKI(134) was the best of the Brits and ran a new personal best following wins at Market Rasen and Huntingdon. A son of the German winner up to 11f Arcadio, he had the fastest cadence (2.21) approaching the closing stages and is more likely to be a two-miler than some mentioned.   

ESKYLANE (134) had beaten little at Navan the start before but looked very much in his element in this, touching as short as 2/1 in running, only to flatten out late on. A son of Flemensfirth and a 2m bumper winner, he should stay 20f, possibly further, and may have more improvement in him than most.

OCEAN WIND (121 here, 125 previously) had shown fine speed when winning at Newbury (107% finishing speed) but probably beat little there and was put in his place in this. As a son of Teofilo and a Brazilian Grade 1 winner up to 10f, he appeals less as a jumps prospect than those that beat him.

Last year’s Champion Bumper produced not just Envoi Allen but Thyme Hilland Abacadabras, too. The Class of 2020 has plenty to live up to when they return from their extended break.

Until they do, the official directive is to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, and I have found that Desert Orchid took almost exactly that time up the run-in of the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

In time with me and Sir Peter O’Sullevan, then:

“…WASH…’s Yahoo on the far side, Desert Orchid on the near side…WASH…’s Desert Orchid on the near side and Yahoo on the far side…WASH…..Desert Orchid drifting over to the stands’ side…WASH…..He’s beginning to get up: Desert Orchid is beginning to get up!...WASH… they race towards the line…WASH…..and there’s a tremendous cheer from the crowd!...WASH…..and Desert Orchid is going to win it, Desert Orchid has won the Gold Cup!!…WASH…..and DRY”.

Lovely. Take care.

Sectional Spotlight
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