Sectional Spotlight

Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands outlines why a potential star was born at Gowran Park and looks Imperial Aura’s Ascot win from a striding perspective.

  • Tuesday 24 November
  • Blog
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One of the reasons to use sectional and overall times over jumps is that they can identify remarkable performances which are otherwise undervalued by the wider public. The last week provided an above-average number of such cases, I would say.

Gowran Park on Friday featured four consecutive two-mile hurdles and three consecutive two-and-a-half mile chases. Such circumstances allow for one-on-one comparisons, which are especially useful given doubts about accurate distances and inevitable variations in speed of surface.

The hurdles told us that Youmdor – the fastest of the quartet of winners – is probably a useful three-year-old even after an allowance for his running on virgin ground, and that the Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow was 4.0s slower than him overall but that and a bit more besides quicker from three out.

But it was the trio of chases which provided the real eye-opener. One of the winners was much faster than the other two and comes out well on sectionals also.

That winner was ENERGUMENE, who took a beginners chase in a time 7.9s quicker than his 150-rated and more seasoned stablemate Annamix managed 35 minutes earlier and 25.8s quicker than 120-rated Hostage To Fortune managed in another beginners chase 35 minutes later.

That second differential is massive and reflects the fact that Energumene was crossing the line as Hostage To Fortune was approaching the second-last.

“Ah, but what about the respective paces?”, I hear you say. “It is easy to run faster than horses in other races when those horses dawdle for most of the way by comparison: we need the sectionals”. Good point: happy to oblige.

Those by-fence comparisons show that Energumene not only ran much faster overall but similarly fast late on. He got to the closing stages a long way ahead of Annamix and Hostage To Fortune on time, and still managed to match them from that point.

Put it another way, if Energumene had given Annamix a 110-yard start and Hostage To Fortune a 350-yard start he would have caught up with them both towards the end of the back straight and the three would have crossed the line more or less in unison.

It should be acknowledged that neither Annamix nor Energumene was hard pressed to record the times they did, Hostage To Fortune was a bit more so.

Those overall times have Energumene more than 40 lb quicker than Annamix and over 100 lb quicker than Hostage To Fortune.

Before jumping to the conclusion that Energumene is the reincarnation of Arkle, there is one other pertinent piece of timing information to consider, which is that his nearest pursuer in Energumene’s race itself – Fort Worth Texas – ran 4.1s slower than him carrying 7 lb less, a difference of about 26 lb on paper.  

Fort Worth Texas is no star, though she is likely a fair bit better than the 118 rating the Horse Racing Ireland handicappers gave her as a hurdler, in which sphere she beat Tucanae (now rated 121) easily. She had two 125-plus rated chasers behind her at Gowran.

All in all, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Energumene is a potential star – or perhaps even a star already – whether at this distance or shorter/longer.

A little nudge for the form, and for those ostensibly remarkable sectionals, from Fort Worth Texas in coming weeks would not go amiss, however.

DIY sectionals are unavoidable in Ireland, where the authorities promised official figures from the start of 2017 but have still not delivered.

Some of British racing has a similar blindspot, but not the many tracks covered by Total Performance Data and showcased in the Results Section on this site.

We are still learning where jumps racing at Ascot is concerned, but the lessons from Friday’s and Saturday’s cards allowed for more understanding.

In addition to detailed sectionals and finishing speed %s – which indicated that the winners Chantry House(104.7%), Espoir de Guye (105.0%) and Song For Someone (105.9%) showed speed more than stamina, for instance – there is comprehensive striding data.

Striding data is more difficult to unravel over jumps than on the flat for the simple reason that the curve tracking the relationship between cadence (leg speed) and stamina flattens as distances get longer and is therefore less sensitive. Nonetheless, stayers tend to stride more slowly than two-milers, while hurdlers stride slightly more quickly than chasers.

Imperial Aura has shown a fair amount of speed in winning his last three races at around two and a half miles, but those who believe he may be even better returned to three miles plus can take heart from how he performed in beating Itchy Feet and Real Steel in the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday.

Imperial Aura’s “early” and “mid-race” cadence was down at 2.05 and 2.02, where a staying chaser typically turns over at around 2.06/2.07, and it was only late on that he “revved up” to as high as 2.14 strides/second, putting his rivals away with a series of sub-16.0s furlongs before completing in 16.07s.

Imperial Aura’s overall time was respectable, rather than better, but it is a bit of a surprise that connections so quickly ruled out supplementing the seven-year-old for a King George VI Chase at Kempton that could end up weak.

Let’s hope we get to see what he can do in still stronger company, and perhaps at a still longer distance, before long somewhere anyway.

Sectional Spotlight
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