Sectional Spotlight

Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands analyses the entire 2020 British Champions Day card; which included some up to scratch equine performances.

  • Sunday 18 October
  • Blog
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The tenth QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot, just completed, pleased some and not others.

Among the former are those who have (pardon the pun) long championed the cause of an end-of-season finale to the British flat racing season, and who seemingly can see no wrong in the event. Among the latter are the usual suspects for whom nothing is ever as good as it was or as it could be.

In many instances, it probably comes down to one’s own experience, coloured by profit or loss. You may not hear too many objections from backers of Trueshan, Glen Shiel, Wonderful Tonight, The Revenant, Addeybb or Njord. From the rest of us – and that does include me, sorry – perhaps otherwise!

If I had a cat, I might kick it, gently. But win, lose or draw, it is important to remain objective about events in order to learn the correct lessons for the future. Objectivity seemed in short supply at times in the aftermath of Saturday.

The Going

It is – believe me – not necessary to guess at the state of the going, or to ask those on the backs of the horses for their subjective and often contradictory opinions. We have the science of Going Stick readings and of time analysis to guide us.

The former – taken several hours before the event – said the ground was testing but by no means unraceable.

The latter, which uses times, adjusted for putative ability, weight carried, rail movements, apparent wind strength and direction, sectionals, and more besides, compared with standardised benchmarks, reflects conditions when racing actually took place. It is a time-honoured and robust way of deducing the speed of the surface from the evidence.

Time analysis shows that the ground on Saturday was soft, but no softer than on four British Champions Days previously, and not heavy. Some, for reasons best known to themselves, tried to depict it otherwise.

The following are my time-based going allowances for the 10 British Champions Days to date, with the figure given being the rating a horse would theoretically have to run to in order to equal my standard time, in a well-run race, carrying 10-00 or its weight-for-age equivalent, so that higher equals softer.

Times were slow on Saturday, reflecting the surface, but Trueshan’s winning time in the Long Distance Cup was faster than three of the previous five at this distance (2019 was on the inner jumps course and at shorter) for the race as a Group 2.

The Fillies & Mares and Balmoral Handicap were both faster than three of six, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and Sprint were faster than two of nine and one of five respectively, and only the QIPCO Champion Stakes was slowest in the last decade, which had something to do with pace and sectionals.

The Sectionals

There are sectionals out there – lots of them – in the Results Section of this site detailing what went on in microscopic detail at Ascot on Saturday, and I encourage you to seek them out and weigh them up.

The following summary, at a race level, should give an overview of which races were true tests and which were not.

The long and short of the matter is that most of the races were close to well-run, with the best horse on the day emerging victorious.

Trueshan’s fast final 2f in the Long Distance Cup – faster than Glen Shiel’s in winning the Sprint shortly after! – disguises the fact that most trailing in his wake ran quite close to par. Glen Shiel’s race and, in particular, Wonderful Tonight’s race resulted in slow finishes, underlining the emphasis on stamina in those contests.

The QIPCO Champion Stakes was run less than efficiently (hence the modest historical time), with closer inspection showing that it had a fast-steady-fast profile (see colour coding in results). Magical got stuck in traffic, was making gains late on and should have been at least second.

Intriguingly, Njord ran 0.10s (about two-thirds of a length) faster in winning the Balmoral Handicap under 9-05 than The Revenant did in winning the centrepiece Queen Elizabeth II Stakes 70 minutes earlier, and the two races were run in broadly similar fashion.    

The draw

That is broadly similar in terms of splits, but the Balmoral ended up highlighting an apparent draw bias that had remained hidden until that point.

The runners in the Sprint and the QE2 came down the centre, but those drawn 1 to 8 and 10 stuck to the far side in the Balmoral and fared much better than the rest, who remained in the centre.

How much better? We can quantify that, of course.

The “low” cohort had an average finishing position of 5.5, compared to the centre’s 12.7, were beaten 5.4 lengths on average, compared to the centre’s 13.2 lengths (11.9 lengths if a stop-loss of 20 lengths is operated), and beat 73.5% of their rivals (including themselves), compared to 31.2% for those in the centre.

Six and a half lengths is approximately equivalent to 16 lb under the conditions that prevailed on Saturday. The time performance of The Revenant looks much better in that context.

The equine performances

Three of the five Group winners at Ascot on Saturday recorded Timeform performance ratings in excess of the five-year average, with Trueshan fully 6lb ahead of that average and Glen Shiel 2lb below it.

The 2020 British Champions Day was up to scratch by that measure, even if not everyone got the winners they wanted.

One interesting thing to note is that the Balmoral Handicap was won by the only Irish-trained horse remaining in the field, a week after Great White Shark won the Cesarewitch and Irish-trained horses over-performed as a group in that race.

The official Irish handicapper recently dropped the majority of horses by 2lb. Njord would have won comfortably with that much more on his back, but the offset is certainly not doing Irish raiders any harm.

The human performances

Rumour has it that Hollie Doyle and Tom Marquand shone at Ascot on Saturday and that they are “an item”.

“The Posh and Becks of British horse racing” went one Tweet (from someone whose age can be guessed at 40 plus); “it’s Tom Marquand’s and Hollie Doyle’s world: we just live in it” went another.

Us number-crunchers tend not to get involved in such matters. But we can offer up some stats in appreciation.

Hollie is ahead of Tom, just, in a number of key areas, such as wins and strike-rate. She is also fractionally ahead in terms of % of rivals beaten at 55.4% to 55.2% for all races and 55.2% to 54.8% for handicaps only (a leveller playing field), with both well ahead of par.

But, by my reckoning, the head-to-head for those races in Britain and Ireland in which both have ridden favours Tom over Hollie, by 107 to 88.

More subjectively, both are remarkably talented riders, and come across as nice people, too. Horseracing is lucky to have them.

Sectional Spotlight
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