Sectional Spotlight

Simon Rowlands uses sectional times to dissect the action from the final three days of Royal Ascot 2020.

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The division of this ATR Sectional Spotlight into first two days then last three days was forced upon me by the timing of events, but it proved propitious as if there was a watershed then it came on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, when much water was indeed shed.

Tuesday and Wednesday – dealt with here – took place on ground that was on the fast side of good (Timeform called it “good to firm” on the straight course, justifiably on times). Come a post-downpour Thursday it was somewhere between “soft” and “good to soft”.

That proved to be no sweat in the Gold Cup for Stradivarius – little is for him, to be honest – as he defied The Doubters (including yours truly) about his ability to see out two and a half miles in testing conditions, and in blistering style.

If you want to find out the numbers behind how he did it, then head to the Results Section on this site, where the colour-coded splits show that a slow early pace became a frenetic one mid-race, then briefly more measured approaching the straight, before Stradivarius administered a demolition job from the turn, even managing to put in a 13.53s uphill final furlong in winning by 10 lengths and eight.

The Gold Cup at Ascot is unique, as is its winner for the last three years now, but the other races on Thursday were at paired distances and allow for one-on-one comparisons. Arguably the most interesting comparison of all is the one between the mile handicaps which rounded things off.

Britannia vs Sandringham

The difference in overall time between the two winners of 1.67s (around nine lengths) is impressive enough but even more so when one considers that Khaloosy carried 15 lb (theoretically about 1.0s or in excess of five additional lengths) more than did Onassis.

Onassis is fairly useful at this stage, rather than better. However, that difference does nothing but reflect well on Khaloosy.

A look at the sectionals sheds more light on events and suggests that the latter is indeed a Group winner in the making, if not necessarily the Second Coming that overall times alone might indicate.

The Britannia was strongly run, and even Khaloosy did not finish all that quickly: those behind him slowed down more compared to their average race speeds, some of them significantly so. By contrast, Onassis showed a bright turn of speed late on, both in absolute terms and relative to her average race speed. All the first five in the Sandringham ran faster late on than did Khaloosy.

Khaloosy was utterly dominant in the Britannia, and could easily have found more, but the fact is that the margins behind him were exaggerated somewhat by the run of the race, while those in Onassis’s race were compressed for the opposite reason.

You would expect the winner of theCommonwealth Cup to run quite a bit quicker than the winner of the Albany Stakes at the same 6f distance on Friday, not just because the former is a Group 1 and the latter a Group 3, but because the Commonwealth Cup is for three-year-olds and the Albany is for two-year-olds: the difference in weight-for-age in the second half of June is around 16lb (you can ignore the flawed BHA scale), or roughly four lengths/0.67s.

Golden Horde managed to run fully 1.82s quicker in winning the Commonwealth Cup than had Dandalla in landing the Albany by a much bigger margin, and a closer inspection of the sectionals helps to show why.

Albany vs Commonwealth Cup

All of the principals in the Commonwealth Cup, and not just Golden Horde, distributed their energy close to optimally (par finishing speed is just under 100%), whereas in the Albany only Dandalla did.

Pierre Lapin, Lope Y Fernandez and Mums Tipple failed to run their races in the former, but what you saw was what you got with the remainder: namely a good overall time and no excuses in terms of pace and position.

Dandalla’s time is respectable for the grade, and there is no suggestion she was anything other than the best filly on the day. But everything bar her and late-closing runner-up Setarhe paid the price to some degree or other for their earlier exertions. Those margins became exaggerated and that is worth remembering with the future in mind.

It is possible that Golden Horde will face Art Power – impressive winner of the opening 5f handicap – someday, and the latter does possess Group-class speed, covering the second and third furlongs in 22.30s combined.

That is faster than managed by either The Lir Jet or Golden Pal, the one-two in the Norfolk Stakes for two-year-olds, by about two lengths (both recorded 22.64s for the same section), but they would be favoured by the huge allowance for juveniles if they were to turn up in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York.

Both mile-and-a-half races on Friday were run at stop-start gallops, especially the concluding handicap won by Scarlet Dragon.

The leader in that race, West End Charmer, got to halfway 1.55s (approaching 10 lengths) ahead of the leader at the same stage in the Hardwicke Stakes, Communique.

West End Charmer then dropped anchor and completed each of the next three splits about four lengths slower than Communique, with both horses remaining in the lead.

Fanny Logan settles better these days and improved to win the Hardwicke, for all that the form does not look the strongest in behind. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have had detailed sectionals for her eye-catching reappearance behind Manuela de Vega at Haydock 12 days earlier?!  

If you want a good example of how overall times sometimes mask the truth about the abilities of the protagonists then Exhibit A might be the Coronation Stakes and the St James’s Palace Stakes, both run over the round mile on Saturday.

Alpine Star strode away to win the former in a time 0.17s quicker than Palace Pier managed in the latter 35 minutes later, but – boy! – were those final times achieved in different ways.

Alpine Star vs Palace Pier

As can be seen, Palace Pier was well over a dozen lengths behind Alpine Star on time in the middle of the race, while Alpine Star herself was a few lengths off the leader in the Coronation Stakes, Run Wild, in reality.

That differential went down from 15 lengths (using a conversion of six lengths/second) to just a length at the line.

So, what happened?

Well, the colour-coded sectionals in the Results Section on this site tell a tale of a “fast” early pace in the fillies’ race but a reasonably even one thereafter, prompting a race finishing speed of 98.8%, just a bit slower than par.

They also tell of an “even to slow” early pace in the colts’ race and an absolute burn-up in the final two furlongs which resulted in the fastest finish in relative terms (109.4% finishing speed) of the entire week.

Even more remarkably, perhaps, Palace Pier’s final 2f was bettered in absolute terms only by the one-two in the King’s Stand Stakes, Battaash (23.34s) and Equilateral (23.36s), and that only marginally, across the five days. 

Palace Pier ran a lung-bursting 11.68s then 11.71s for 23.39s combined. By comparison, Hello Youmzain managed 11.99s then 13.13s for 25.12s combined in winning the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at two furlongs shorter in the next race.

Fastest of all at one stage of the St James’s Palace Stakes was Pinatubo, manoeuvred into position and back on the bridle before banging in a 11.64s penultimate furlong. But Palace Pier was the stronger where it mattered and a deserving winner.

Wichita played a major part in what was a stirring three-way showdown, best placed of the trio turning in, close to the front, but showing very sharp speed himself when it mattered.

The overall time may “say” that Alpine Star was a marginally better horse than Palace Pier on the day, but sectionals have it emphatically the other way, for Palace Pier distributed his energy far more unevenly.

Only a tip-top miler could run as slow early and as fast late as he did and still record a smart overall time. And it follows that Pinatubo and Wichita, while not quite tip-top, are very good themselves also.

The beauty is that the narrow margins between the three of them means that a different pace profile, or different going or a different track, could feasibly result in a different outcome.

Throw in the 2000 Guineas winner Kameko and the Irish 2000 Guineas winner Siskin and we look to have some very exciting times – sectional as well as overall – ahead.

Sectional Spotlight
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