Sectional Spotlight

Simon Rowlands examines the jumping efficiency of every runner in Saturday’s Betfair Chase, explores the sectional data and striding figures of some of the recent promising two-year-olds and has two selections plus analysis online for Newcastle on Wednesday.

  • Tuesday 27 November
  • Blog
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Haydock’s affable Clerk of The Course Kirkland Tellwright has been in the news a fair bit of late, including (with a certain irony not lost on social media given his supposed fondness for artificial watering) on account of getting stuck in the mud on a recent visit to Colin Tizzard’s stables.

Last Saturday was a new one, however, as he faced up to questions regarding the size and stiffness of the fences at the Merseyside track. Tellwright admitted that the rebuilt fences will require further selective trimming after there were a larger-than-usual proportion of fallers and unseats.

There were suggestions that Might Bite, last of five when favourite for the featured Betfair Chase, had been inconvenienced more than most. Trainer Nicky Henderson described the gelding as being “in panic mode” and spending “too much time in the air”.

There are few things I enjoy more than testing the veracity of public statements that otherwise go unchallenged, and I have had a go at this one.

Besides anything else, this may not be a purely academic exercise, as future data initiatives in horseracing promise to include measures of “jumping efficiency”. The following study may at least help to identify some of the things we should be looking for if that does transpire.

I put the Betfair Chase into video-editing software and measured the “hang time” between a horse’s hind legs leaving the ground on the approach side of the fence and its forelegs touching down on the other. There will have been some imprecision, but that is likely to come out in the wash.

These were the findings for the five runners, consolidated into “early”, “middle” and “late” in the race.

Native River and Clan des Obeaux were the most fluent, taken overall, though the differences between them and the other trio were small (about a neck per obstacle) taken overall. There was also a negligible difference for individual horses between each section.

Might Bite was slightly slower than those two but no slower than the winner Bristol de Mai and fractionally faster than Thistlecrack, on average.  

More interesting, perhaps, were the proportion of “fast” (under 0.60s hang time) and “slow” (over 0.70s hang time) jumps throughout the race for each runner. Averages are great things, but they can be found wanting when dealing with variation.

This picture is much clearer: both Thistlecrack’s and Might Bite’s slow jumps far outnumbered their fast ones; Bristol de Mai was somewhat better, and Native River and Clan des Obeaux were best.

This may well be more meaningful than simple averages. Each slow jump requires effort to regather and power forward again; each fast jump (assuming the horse lands running) does not.

So, there looks to be some substance in what Henderson said, though the evidence is that Might Bite was not quite the worst affected horse in the field. That dubious honour went to Thistlecrack.

There continue to be a decent number of promising two-year-olds around at this time of the year. Fortunately, many of them are covered by Total Performance Data’s sectional and striding figures, which are displayed in the results section elsewhere on this site.

The reader is advised to check out the full details of RED IMPRESSION (on whom I have a 109 sectional rating), MOONLIGHT SPIRIT (92) and ROCKET ACTION (94) in those results. Each of those winners has a similar peak cadence (2.48, 2.46 and 2.47 respectively), but only the first-named switched off properly otherwise.

Red Impression and Rocket Action stride in a manner most typical of 6f/7f performers. Moonlight Spirit is more difficult to decipher, but that change of gear suggests he is not crying out for further just yet.

Unfortunately, ZAKOUSKI’s impressive debut, in which he lowered the colours of the promising Headman, took place at the sectional wilderness that is Kempton. But it is possible to get a better handle on what he did through advanced video analysis.  

That has the Godolphin youngster running approximately 10.6s then 10.95s for the last 2f, following a slack earlier pace, which prompts a 97 sectional rating. It also has him with a superior 25.4-feet stride and max/min stride frequency of 2.45/2.17.

Despite the smart speed Zakouski showed here, he should stay 8f and quite possibly 10f in time. His next appearance is awaited with considerable interest.

Newcastle’s Wednesday twilight meeting features eight races, all at a mile or less (something the BHA was meant to be protecting us from).

Trainer Ed Walker has not had a winner in just over a month, but his runners in November have been performing perfectly well in terms of % of Rivals Beaten (at 65.7%), and his QUICKSILVER looks an interesting enough nursery debutant in the 4:45.

The connections of BALLYQUIN have had to show patience as the son of Acclamation has made the course just three times by the twilight of his three-year-old year.

He has locked horns with several useful sorts in those runs and shown quite a bit of ability, however, and the 6:15 at Newcastle looks to provide him with a good opportunity to make up for lost time.  

Sectional Spotlight

Newcastle 16:45, 28 November 2018

Newcastle 18:15, 28 November 2018

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