A query on a French Racing WhatsApp group to which I belong – we have to get our kicks where we can in lockdown, so don’t judge me too harshly – led to my discovering that less than one race in four in France is truly-run whereas more than one in three in Britain is (though the proportion varies by distance).
That is using finishing speed %s as a measure. The “French races are all slowly-run” concept is overstated but does have a kernel of truth, then.
Anyone wishing to point out how unreliable overall times are as an indicator of merit in France had plenty of ammunition at Deauville on Sunday, when the finishing speed %s of the nine races were (from first race to last): 118.0%, 112.2%, 112.9%, 108.3%, 99.6%, 121.6%, 122.2%, 100.9% and 103.6%. The first six races were on turf and the last three on all-weather.
Two of those were well-run (races five and eight), one nearly was (the finale) and the rest were either slowly-run or VERY slowly-run: finishing speed figures in the 120s are seldom seen, even in France. Two well-run races out of nine is, indeed, less than one race in four.
The sole Group race – the Prix de Barbeville (race six) – was one of those extraordinarily slowly-run races, and it is form to treat with considerable suspicion.
The best horse won it, in the odds-on Call The Wind, from last year’s winner, the penalised Holdthasigreen, but the distinctly ordinary pair Libello and Or Gris were hot on their heels. Times of 11.08s then 11.05s for the last two splits (add approximately 0.06s to get the equivalent for a furlong) is the kind of speed decent sprinters would struggle to maintain for long.
That race may have been a mess, but the two newcomer contests which opened the card promise to be more revealing: with the help of sectionals, of course. Unless I am mistaken, there were a likely Group horse and a possible Group horse on show, providing you look beyond the bare form and overall time.
The pair were still running at over 12.0s per split turning for home, but Lackeen then ran 10.89s followed by 10.80s, while Edge of Victory, who was better positioned turning in and on the bridle for a bit longer, posted 10.83s then 11.01s.
That results in big upgrades for both, with Lackeen – a gelded son of Shamardal and trained by Andre Fabre – doing well to run down his main rival – a son of Kingman and the Pouliches winner Beauty Parlour, in the care of Jean-Claude Rouget – in the circumstances.
Striding analysis from video shows that Lackeen did this by increasing both his cadence, to 2.48 strides/second, and his stride length, to 24.8 feet (after conversion from metric to imperial). Edge of Victory went up to a cadence of 2.55 but maxed at a stride length of only 23.8 feet.
While those maximum cadence figures are most typical of horses who will prove best at up to a mile, the minimums (of 2.20 and 2.27 respectively) give much more encouragement that both will stay 10f.
This got me thinking more generally about how superior two-year-olds in general fare in their second seasons, as measured by ratings.
Unfortunately, my Timeform Racehorses are self-isolating elsewhere during lockdown, so I have had to refer to Timeform Performance Ratings – those achieved in the races themselves – rather than the definitive annual ones for the following research, though I am wondering if a tearful reunion may finally be possible under the new Dominic Cummings lockdown guidelines.
There were a total of 43 two-year-olds in Britain and Ireland with Timeform performance figures in excess of 120 from 1993 to present who went on to run in the same jurisdictions as three-year-olds.
Of those, 21 improved their peak performance ratings from two to three, 20 went in the other direction, and two achieved the same maximum performance figures in both seasons.
The median difference was (it follows) zero, but the average difference was a drop of nearly 3 lb, reflecting that deterioration tended to be of a greater magnitude than improvement.
Pinatubo ran to 134 according to the sages of Halifax when winning the National Stakes at the Curragh by nine lengths. That puts him alongside Celtic Swing (138 in 1994) and Xaar (132 three years later) as a juvenile with a performance figure in excess of 130 over that period.
As it happens, Celtic Swing and Xaar dropped 9 lb and 8 lb respectively from two to three, based on Timeform Performance Ratings in Britain and Ireland. Perhaps the truly exceptional juveniles tend to regress to the mean over time, but there is not much wrong with the record of merely “very good” youngsters in their sophomore seasons, for all that the likes of Air Force Blue (123 at two years in 2015 and scarcely sighted at three) provide cautionary examples from history.
The fact of the matter is that Pinatubo may not have to be as good this year as last to be dominant still, at least in the first colts’ classic. He has a massive 14 lb in hand of the next-best juvenile judged by such criteria, Kameko on 120.
Even a shortfall in his rating of 9 lb – the difference in weight-for-age between last year’s Dewhurst and this year’s Guineas – would have Pinatubo on 125, which is almost exactly the average Timeform Performance Rating required to win the Guineas.
Let’s hope we soon get the chance to see just what Pinatubo the three-year-old is made of