Sectional Spotlight

Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands reviews the Irish Oaks and has selections online for Newbury and Leopardstown on Thursday plus York on Friday.

  • Wednesday 25 July
  • Blog
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With posthumous apologies to Dr Johnson, “it is commonly observed that, when horseracing fans meet, their first talk is of the weather and of how it will affect the going”.

It might be imagined that the chatter dies down during a settled spell, but not a bit of it. This summer – which now threatens to rival those of the mid-1970s for prolonged heat and dryness – is presenting its own challenges. 

Bath racecourse – which is alone in Britain in having no watering system – is returning Going Stick readings in the double digits and may have to draw stumps before long. By contrast, some courses have been applying water as if it is going out of fashion (which it is, in one respect).

Time analysis suggests that the well-watered surfaces at Windsor and Pontefract in particular have been on the easy side of late. The Newmarket July Meeting unexpectedly seemed to take place on “good” going, rather than firmer, as judged by times.

A recent Doncaster meeting produced times a fair bit slower than could be expected of genuine “good to firm” going, prompting criticism from racehorse trainer David Griffiths.

Meanwhile, all-weather surfaces are by no means immune to the freak conditions, but not in the way some might expect. Sustained hot weather tends to make the surface more – rather than less – testing, probably due to the binding agents becoming more viscous.

Newcastle’s AW meeting this Tuesday resulted in a going allowance of 144 (it would have taken 144-rated horses to equal my standard times carrying 10-00 in well-run races) for the first five races, where a figure as low as 79 was in play as recently as March.

No-one should imagine that producing safe and consistent going under extreme conditions is straightforward. As the Horseracing Bettors Forum’s representative on a BHA-driven Working Party about going, I can testify that such things are taken seriously and that initiatives are in train to improve the accuracy of going descriptions.

But one inevitable consequence of a drought is watering, the effect of which can be less than predictable despite advances in understanding in this area. Another would appear to be some surprisingly testing AW surfaces.

Bear all of this in mind when choosing your bets, but also bear in mind that the sectional methodology used on these pages adjusts automatically to the vagaries of surface speed, for they are based on ratios.

If a horse “should” get to halfway in, say, half of its overall time, the absolute time which that represents will go up or down according to circumstances. That makes them relevant come what may.

It would, however, be nice to have a bit of rain in order to avoid the sport becoming a series of uncompetitive match races, as was the case in Dr Johnson’s day!


According to some, sadly lacking the good Doctor’s neat turn of phrase, racing is “a matter of opinions”. Nonetheless, it is surprising to find that one or two viewed James Doyle’s winning ride on the inexperienced and possibly quirky Sea of Class in the Darley Irish Oaks at the Curragh last Saturday as a poor one.

Racing is also a matter of evidence and facts, and what those can substantiate is that the filly did well in coming from last to first, for she did so in a race in which the pace had been on the steady side and in which those she was passing were by no means stopping.

These are the headline sectionals for the classic, taken from video analysis in the continued absence of electronic figures in Irish racing.

Those finishing speed %s – each horse’s speed in the final 3f as a % of its average speed for the race overall – are high for the principals at a course and distance where par is around 104%. Sectional upgrades result from the difference between actual FS% and that par FS%.

Forever Together was almost certainly not an especially good winner of the Oaks at Epsom, but she was not a bad one, either, and in giving her a start and beating her Sea of Class performed like a very smart filly indeed.

She has shown sharp speed in each of her wins and might well be fully effective back at 10f if connections choose such a path.

Given Sea of Class’s previous tendency to flash her tail when in front – something which may presage reluctance – delivering her to lead almost on the line without subjecting her to maximum pressure looked like a ride of genius to me. But that is just my opinion.

James Doyle teams up with another daughter of Sea The Stars, though in a rather less exalted context, in the 6:40 at Newbury on Thursday, when STAR TERMS bids to make it third time lucky in a 2-y-o Fillies’ Maiden.

The Richard Hannon inmate got going too late at Doncaster last time, but put in some good late splits (which can be found on the results section of this site) and has the potential to run to something like 90 now.

There are some interesting unraced rivals – not least another daughter of Sea The Stars in To The Moon – but Star Terms is fancied to make her experience tell in this instance. 

Jessica Harrington is more obviously associated with another offspring of Mastercraftsman (Alpha Centauri) but the sire/trainer combination look to have a realistic chance of winning the Vinnie Roe Stakes at Leopardstown on Thursday (8:10) with THE KING, who shaped last time as if this longer trip will suit him.

Overall times and sectionals suggest that Mark Johnston has got a decidedly useful sort on his hands in PERSIAN MOON, who carries a penalty in the Novice Stakes at York on Friday (7:00). His closing splits when winning at Yarmouth last time point to him being a 104-rated colt, which should be more than enough to win this.

Sectional Spotlight

Newbury 18:40, 26 July 2018

Leopardstown 20:10, 26 July 2018

York 19:00, 27 July 2018

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