I often cite my parents buying me a Form Book for my 10th birthday as a defining moment in my journey from horseracing enthusiast to horseracing obsessive, but there was an event a few years later which might be regarded as the point of no return where devoting my so-called life to writing about and analysing the sport is concerned.
That was my first purchase of a Timeform Racehorses Annual, despite being too young to bet and despite paper rounds back then falling a long way short of what would have been the minimum wage had it existed. I ended up writing large chunks of later annuals, flat and jumps, proof-reading even more, and editing it on one occasion.
The latest edition is out and has already truly whetted my appetite for the imminent flat season proper. If you want an in-depth appraisal of the prospects of Too Darn Hot and co for the year ahead, or simply wish to bask in the memories of the achievements of such as Winx, Cracksman and Roaring Lion (a slightly unexpected Horse of The Year for the Halifax organisation) then you will be catered for.
If racing politics, rather than hard-nosed form analysis, are your thing, then there is plenty go at, too, including an extended consideration of the role of the whip (not all of which I agree with) in the essay on Poet’s Word.
What I find slightly disappointing is the apparent absence of discussion of a horse’s sectionals (let alone striding) in the essay entries when Timeform has been near the forefront of improving public understanding in this area on a regular basis. The careers of Roaring Lion, Saxon Warrior and Masar were defined to a degree by such considerations: Too Darn Hot’s likely will be.
Nonetheless, Timeform has had no peers when it comes to applying a logical, formalised and evidence-based approach to assessing racehorse performance over the years. The Racehorses annual represents something of a tip of an iceberg – if a sizeable tip at 1244 pages – of the many analytical processes which have been developed over the years.
It has been observed that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day but if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime. By a similar token, if you give a man a winning tip he will be happy for a day but if you teach a man to pick his own winning tips he will be happy for a lifetime.
Buying that early Racehorses annual was one of the first steps – and perhaps the most important one of all – in my learning how to fish, a discipline in which perfection remains frustratingly out of reach but which has entertained and inspired me like none other along the way.
Back when I was first buying Timeform annuals there was no such thing as all-weather racing and the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster represented the first flat action for almost five months: how on Earth did we all cope?!
There were also no sectional times, even though the shrewder cookies understood the concept of efficient energy distribution without realistically being able to measure it.
Now, we have some sectional times put on a plate for us – courtesy of Total Performance Data and showcased in the Results Section on this site – and can figure out others with some effort.
Doncaster is one of the courses covered by TPD, so we now have a body of work which tells us how running efficiently – and therefore running a time which closely reflects a horse’s ability – comes about.
The following par figures are derived from all first-three finishers in well-run handicaps at the course in 2017 and 2018 and have been mapped to standard times and fine-tuned if necessary.
These benchmarks can be used to assess how efficiently horses have performed, whether speed or stamina was favoured, whether being prominent or being held up was an advantage, and ultimately, if you want to go the whole hog, which horses were better than others after sectionals have been allowed for.
What better time to get stuck in than at Doncaster this Saturday and Sunday?
Before that, on Brexit Day (Friday), there are three all-weather meetings in Britain and Ireland to set the scene.
The Lingfield card has a couple of interesting sprint handicaps, in which the pace promises to be unforgiving, starting with the Betway Casino Handicap at 2:30.
If you rule out those in danger of cutting each other’s throats and those drawn unsuitably wide (it is not quite that simple, of course), then a good case can be made for QAARAAT, who is likely to drop in a but from stall 3 and who shaped nicely when second at Wolverhampton last time after a break.
Qaaraat’s trainer, Antony Brittain, is in good form, with seven winners and a 59% rivals beaten since January. He looks to have quite a strong hand in the Betway Handicap at 3:05 also, with Tathmeen and DRAKEFELL.
The latter has come to him only recently from Richard Hannon but looks potentially well-treated with the handicapper essentially ignoring his win in a claimer recently despite that having been achieved in a fast time.