The ninth QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday lacked the heady class of some previous occasions – we cannot expect a Frankel, a Cracksman, or a Muhaarar every year – but was not short of high drama, with the Long Distance Cup and the Fillies & Mares decided on the nod.
There was plenty to enjoy at the time, and plenty to pick over after, even if some of the results were not what had been expected.
The existence of sectional times, courtesy of Longines and Ascot, makes that “picking over” all the better and potentially more rewarding. Those sectionals were discussed on various outlets at the time, including Sky Sports Racing, and may be found as a PDF on the bottom of the Ascot results on this site.
Sectional times always need to be viewed in context, of course, and the context this time was soft ground and round-course races that had been switched to the little-used “Inner Flat Course”. The horses ran slower, but they ran slower in explicable ways.
Perhaps the first step to understanding the plethora of information provided is to establish how quickly the horses were travelling in general early and late in each of the races.
To achieve this, we can take the time for the leader at the start of the sectional and the leader at the finish of the sectional (not necessarily the same horse), convert it to a speed and express this speed as a % of the speed of the race in its entirety.
This provides a “race” or “field” finishing speed for the contest overall: at Ascot, we would expect such figures to be quite close to 100%, and that should not vary much whichever course is used.
The following were arrived at after a small amount of adjustment to those sectional times due to an offset between them and the official overall time.
At a glance, it can be seen that four of the six races resulted in notably slow finishes, in which the race finishing speed % was well below 100, one (the Long Distance Cup) resulted in a notably fast finish, and one (the Champion) was fairly close to par.
To exactly what degree that QIPCO British Long Distance Cup was a test of speed at the business end may be gauged by the fact that it resulted in easily the fastest final 2f on the day in absolute terms – 24.81s – despite being the race run over easily the longest distance!
The fastest section of the race, for every horse, was between 4f out and 3f out, at which point the slow-starting eventual fourth Mekong posted the swiftest split of all at 12.00s.
Not only speed, but also positioning, was paramount. Sectionals in previous races had told us that Stradivarius had bags of the former, but KEW GARDENS was slightly advantaged by the latter, as a more detailed individual breakdown of the Long Distance Cup sectionals shows.
In this instance, the final 3f has been used as a more suitable one-off sectional for what was a longer-distanced race. The Longines/Ascot sectionals have Kew Gardens 0.18s, or just over a length, ahead of Stradivarius at the beginning of the sectional, which is confirmed visually. There was, of course, just a nose in it come the line.
Sectional upgrades, which are expressed in pounds, are arrived at by measuring the inefficiency implicit in the difference between a horse’s finishing speed and the par finishing speed for the course, distance and circumstances (100.8% here, by my reckoning). The effect of the difference is exponential, in line with physical laws.
The two horses’ finishing speeds were both fast, but Stradivarius’s was (self-evidently) faster, and the result is an upgrade which suggests he “should” have won, if not by much, though non-sectional factors may still be relevant.
By conserving energy, Kew Gardens was able to quicken and then to pull out more in a desperate finish. Stradivarius did much the same, but he had to expend just a bit more of that energy in the first place to come from a bit further back.
As hinted at, the Long Distance Cup makes for a good exercise in compare and contrast with other races on the card, so let’s look at two of them – the QIPCO British Champions Sprint and the QIPCO Champion Stakes – in a little more detail.
The winner of the Sprint, DONJUAN TRIUMPHANT, actually ran quite near to par, but, as a closer study of his times show, he came from some way back. His commentary reads:
“mid-division…repeatedly hampered…got gap entering final 1f…led towards finish and won going away”
A fine turn of foot? Not really: it was more a case of him slowing down less than the others.
In particular, Make A Challenge (“…led over 1f out…no extra close home…”) deserves to be rated alongside or slightly ahead of the placed horses, while further back, and not shown in the above, the well-fancied Hello Youmzain can be excused on account of doing too much too soon.
The Champion, by contrast, is an illustration of a race in which pace had little effect: it was truly-run, and the cream – MAGICAL – rose to the top under a well-judged ride from Donnacha O’Brien.
It had been a different story when Magical was unplaced in the Arc 13 days earlier, on which occasion she paid for sitting too close to a strong pace, as the sectionals at the time made clear.
Those who backed Magical from 7/4 to evens on Saturday to “bounce back” might well have realised that she did not really need to bounce back at all. She just needed to have her energy rationed better.
Superior horses can overcome pace biases. But pace counts for a great deal when horses are closely matched. Thanks to Longines/Ascot, Total Performance Data, and others, the degree to which that is true has become even more apparent in recent years.