A slight lull in proceedings on the road to All-Weather Finals Day at Lingfield Park on Good Friday in April 2017 means there have been no Fast-Track Qualifiers since the last of these updates. But that is not to say that there has been no good racing in that time.
One such contest was the quite valuable Betway Handicap at Wolverhampton on 10th December, previewed in this column at the time. The race duly went to Mythical Madness, from Sennockian Star, but there are reasons to think the result might have been somewhat different another day.
The Total Performance Data sectionals reveal a rather tepid early pace for most of the runners and a fairly quick finish for the principals. Being towards the rear in the first half was not the best place to be, all other things being equal, and third-placed EXAMINER can be considered to have done well.
Examiner was fastest in the final 3f (35.6s), which he started in last place alongside Trendsetter, though Mythical Madness himself also broke 36.0s and was especially quick in the penultimate furlong. The “Sectional Tools” tab of the same race has runner-up Sennockian Star as the odd one out in getting the run of things.
STEEL TRAIN was also given a favourable mention for the pinnacleracing.co.uk Handicap at Newcastle on the same day, and obliged, but with little to spare. This time, the TPD sectionals tell of a reasonably fair scrap, with a slight dip in the early pace (yellow moves to green on the heatmap) and an increase in speed approaching the closing stages (yellow moves to orange) before it levelled out again.
That 10.6s furlong from 3f out to 2f out from Steel Train is impressive, and got him swiftly into contention, but it was pretty hard work for him from there. This win was from a BHA mark of 95, so connections may be tempted to take on the more established all-weather stars at some stage.
There was a particularly interesting 5f Handicap earlier on that Newcastle card, in which Dynamo Walt came from further back than the two he beat. The sectionals have runner-up SHOWDAISY overdoing things slightly early on, which, given she was beaten just a short head, should have made the difference. Her finishing speed % on the Sectional Tools tab for the same race backs up that impression.
By navigating to Showdaisy’s previous run – which produced a win at Southwell – it can be seen that early speed is now her trademark, and she could do even better at one of the other, less demanding, all-weather tracks.
If you want an example of a very different type of race, take a look at the Betway Marathon Handicap on 16th December at Newcastle, an even/slow/slow/fast affair which has the distinction of having the fastest race finishing speed (115.2%) at the course since the sectional service first started appearing on At The Races.
Stamford Raffles won readily enough, but the overall form looks as untrustworthy as your average modern-day politician. Mister Bob ran the penultimate and final furlong fastest in the field but still finished only sixth!
A couple of contenders for the sectional notebook emerged at the 14th December meeting at Lingfield Park. The 7f maiden won by Cercle d’Or was run at a notably uneven pace, and those held up did not get much of a look in.
In that context, fifth-placed debutante FLOOD WARNING caught the eye, with a swift 22.0s last quarter which suggests she could have finished on the heels of the first two another day. A mile should suit her even better than this 7f, but plenty of improvement should be forthcoming either way.
NEW RICH pops up only occasionally, but the finish he delivered to get third in the Betway Sprint Handicap suggests his time could be near if he can get into a less tactical race than this one.
Jumps racing will be hogging the limelight over the festive period, but before then, on Wednesday, Newcastle stages the first of the Fast Track Qualifiers for the Betway Marathon on All-Weather Finals Day.
The Betway Conditions Stakes is an intriguing puzzle, for Star Storm has the best form, if not by a lot, and yet he has to tackle a distance in excess of a mile and a half for the first time in what is now a 15-race career. There has not been a lot of indication that it will suit him.
Star Storm is certainly better than his last run in a listed race at Kempton might suggest, as he got caught out in a tactical affair that day, but he has underperformed more often than not this year.
A better bet may be FIRST MOHICAN, who has no doubts about the trip and whose most recent run, at Wolverhampton at the beginning of this month, looks nothing like so bad when viewed through the prism of sectionals.
The likelihood of a truer pace in this should see First Mohican go well, and each-way will be a valid option if all eight runners stand their ground.