Sectional Spotlight

Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands has analysed the eight Group 1 contests that took place at Royal Ascot 2018.

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The final week in June is “Evidence Week” in the UK parliament. It is a time for promoting the benefits of using facts and figures to form conclusions and policy, rather than hunches and downright lies, as has become disturbingly popular in some quarters.

I am 100% behind it, or perhaps 95% behind it: I am not sure which. My own little contribution this week to what needs to be a 52-week-a-year battle is this ATR Sectional Spotlight, which will produce and consider the timing evidence from Royal Ascot last week.

One very welcome news item which emerged from the meeting is that Ascot is well down the road to re-launching sectionals, this time provided by Swiss Timing on behalf of Longines. Figures for leaders were displayed on-screen over the five days, but no official by-horse data were provided after the event.

As a result, the following sectionals are taken from video analysis, which was more difficult this year than usual due to camerawork and the tendency for horses to come down the centre in the home straight, but not impossible.

With 30 races to go at, the line has to be drawn somewhere, so the following are the summary figures for the first five home in the Group 1 races.

The times are hopefully self-explanatory, “FS” is the individual horse’s speed in the closing sectional as a % of its average race speed (much under 100 is a slow finish, much over 100 is a quick one), the upgrade in pounds comes from the difference between that actual FS% and the par FS% for the course and distance, and the Sectional Rating results from that.

There are fewer than usual insights to be gleaned from those figures, but good winning time performances were put up by Blue Point in the King’s Stand Stakes, by Poet’s Word in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and – in particular – by Alpha Centauri in the Coronation Stakes.

The last-named smashed Barney Roy’s course record by 1.33s, with second and third dipping under the old figure also. Alpha Centauri ran efficiently – a 101.7% finishing speed is only fractionally quicker than par – and there is nothing whatsoever to call the performance into question.

You may recall that Alpha Centauri got a 121 sectional rating on these pages for winning the Irish 1000 Guineas with a devastating late run, but this was better still. Timeform’s 129 timefigure on her for this effort is their highest by a three-year-old filly since Cape Verdi ran away with the 1000 Guineas in 1998.

Incidentally, Alpha Centauri’s striding figures for the last 3f at Royal Ascot (derived from the same video analysis once the individual sectionals were known) were: 25.2 ft (2.22 strides/sec); 24.7 ft (2.34); and finally 24.1 ft (2.26). The most impressive aspect of those are the marked increase in cadence in that very fast penultimate furlong at almost no cost to stride length.

A strong pace in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes led to those FS%s dropping below 100 for all of the principals, but Poet’s Word ran the race close to optimally. The sizeable upgrades behind suggest the margins were exaggerated as the also-rans tired, but not so as to affect the order by much.

The Gold Cup was a very different kettle of fish. It might have been run at a marathon trip, but the emphasis was on late speed within that context, which possibly helped the winner.

Stradivarius ran quicker in the closing stages than Without Parole and Poet’s Word had done at much shorter trips, and Vazirabad ran faster still.

Stradivarius is a very classy stayer indeed, and the Gold Cup was a superb spectacle, but it was not an entirely satisfactory affair from a timing point of view. The outcome would not be a forgone conclusion if the first four were to meet once more. Let’s do it again!

The Commonwealth Cup is one race which should reward a bit of deeper analysis. By my reckoning – and as reflected by those low FS%s – the leaders overdid things somewhat, with Eqtidaar coming from a bit off the pace and Sands of Mali from further back still.

Third-placed Emblazoned, who travelled strongly in the lead for much of the way, ninth-placed Invincible Army and twelfth-placed Equilateral all deserve upgrading, with the first-named particularly likely to remain of interest at this level or a bit lower in the future.   

It is to be hoped that not just Ascot but British racing more widely gets its act together before Royal Ascot 2019 comes round, so that punters and enthusiasts do not have to piece together the details of races for themselves. This area has been woefully unsupported by the BHA, whose own handicappers are now among those calling for progress.

Before then, however, there will be another of these ATR Sectional Spotlights later this week, focusing on the two-year-old races at Royal Ascot 2018.

Sectional Spotlight
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