One of the beauties of At The Races’s industry-leading sectional analysis is that the information is put on a plate for the reader.
If you go to a flat-racing result elsewhere on this site involving the turf tracks at Bath, Chepstow, Doncaster and Windsor, or the all-weather tracks at Lingfield, Newcastle, Southwell and Wolverhampton, you will usually find a detailed breakdown of each horse’s sectional times, courtesy of Total Performance Data, along with colour-coding, an overall summary of the early pace, efficiency grading, and so on.
Racing analysts have never had it so good, or at least racing analysts who refer to the figures produced for those eight tracks. The British Horseracing Authority are among those to have shown an increased interest in the subject of sectional timing recently, so, who knows, maybe similar coverage will become more widespread in 2019.
Some people are happy to have things put on a plate for them, without too many questions asked, but others want to know the ingredients that went into creating the dish in front of them, and still others actually like to do the cooking.
In an attempt to give a bit more detail around some of the sectional numbers – a glimpse into the kitchen, as it were – I thought I would share some findings from TPD data over the last two years.
The following are the average times and last-2f finishing speed %s for first-three finishers in well-run handicaps since the start of 2017 for races at short of a mile on those all-weather tracks. The theory is that such performances reflect “how to run fast” and will have been efficiently paced on average.
A few features are immediately apparent, not least that the closing stages of races at Lingfield are the fastest in both relative and absolute terms, and that Newcastle and (especially) Southwell are the slowest. Wolverhampton lies somewhere in between.
The reasons for this are primarily a combination of topography and track surface. According to Google Earth, Lingfield drops by 5 metres over those last 3f, Newcastle rises by 6, Southwell drops by 2, and Wolverhampton rises by 1.
The reason why finishes at Southwell are slower than might be expected from that information alone is that the surface is, uniquely, Fibresand (Newcastle and Wolverhampton are Tapeta, while Lingfield is Polytrack).
Fibresand is, anecdotally, deeper than the other surfaces, and those 13-plus-second final furlongs seem to confirm that. However, there is more to it than just that, as I discovered when looking at cadence (i.e. stride frequency) figures for the four tracks.
Taken overall, a typically good Southwell performance will involve a horse in “revving up” quickly early and “plodding” at a slower rate late. This contrasts with Lingfield (which involves fairly quick cadence throughout), Newcastle (which starts slowly and ends slowly but which is relatively quick mid-race) and Wolverhampton (which is the opposite of Newcastle).
It appears that it is an advantage to get up to peak striding frequency early on Fibresand, possibly because there is less traction on it than the alternatives, and among the consequences are the relatively slow finishes and slow striding late in a race.
Never mind “horses for courses”, it could be that “cadence for courses” is what it is really about!
A couple of likely types go at Southwell on Thursday, one of them proven on the surface, the other not.
The latter is COTTINGHAM, who has been running modestly if consistently to date and drops in the handicap and a bit in class on his second run for Kevin Frost at 12:50. The question is “can he cope with the return to a mile, and will he cope with his first experience at Southwell?” “Probably” and “probably” is my assessment.
He went quite freely early at an extended 9f at Wolverhampton last time but did show the fast early/slower late stride signature referred to above. A positive ride could see him placed at least in this basement company.
Racing at Southwell for the first time proved to be the making of LADS ORDER when he won in good style a month ago, and he can be easily forgiven a reverse over a longer trip here last time, on both occasions revving high early but simply seeming not to stay on the second one.
The nursery at 1:50 looks to offer him a good chance of getting back to winning ways.