Christmas is, as we are constantly reminded, the most wonderful time of the year. More pertinently, where this column is concerned, the period between Christmas and New Year can be a veritable treasure trove for those bothered enough to pick up a stopwatch and make sense of the feast of racing from a timing point of view.
The last couple of days have seen a King George VI Chase at Kempton won by Might Bite that was only a little quicker than the novice won by Black Corton on the same card and a Desert Orchid Chase at the same track won by Politologue that was slower than the novice won by Cyrname a bit earlier on.
You will search in vain in most of the media for any acknowledgement of these curious facts, let alone an explanation.
Racing is, of course, not a time trial: the purpose of a race is to beat the other horses, not to run the fastest possible time. But ability should be reflected in the times put up along the way – a horse’s sectionals – even if it is not always reflected in the time at the finish.
There were six two-mile hurdles across the first two days of Leopardstown’s Christmas Meeting, with the going very similar on the Tuesday and the Wednesday. Of these, the maiden won by PALOMA BLUE on Boxing Day was not only comfortably the quickest overall but also the joint-quickest on the run-in.
More fuss was made about the wins of Espoir d’Allen (slow overall time and not especially quick finish) and Whiskey Sour (pedestrian finish, even allowing for the carnage which unfolded) than about that of Paloma Blue. But the clock suggests that he and runner-up IMPACT FACTOR may well be relatively over-looked in future engagements.
More than enough good horses turn up on the all-weather to make it worth keeping an eye out for them even at this largely low-key time of the year. The likes of Enable, Limato, Librisa Breeze and Jack Hobbs, to name but four, have dipped a toe in the sand in recent years on their way to better things.
Usually, their future stardom has not been immediately obvious, as they win lesser races against lesser rivals: all that quartet took maidens in the first place. But the clock can help to sort the wheat from the chaff, and sectionals – that sudden burst of pace that only a good horse could show – even more so.
There have been some promising types among the two-year-old crop of 2017 but few impressed more than an Oasis Dream colt who made his debut at Kempton just a few days before Christmas.
MR RITZ won a 7f Novice Stakes that looks pretty ordinary overall but not in terms of the first two coming 10 lengths and more clear of their rivals at the end of a slowly-run race. Runner-up La Maquina, who had the benefit of a previous outing, had things his own way up front but Mr Ritz still managed to run him down to win by a length.
Precise sectionals are difficult to get in the non-TPD world of Kempton, but I make Mr Ritz’s last-3f just a fraction over 33.0s, which would be the fastest by a two-year-old at the course in recent history.
The Jeremy Noseda-trained youngster’s overall time might have been modest, but his closing speed suggests he could even be a Group horse in the making, probably at up to and including a mile. I await his next run with interest!
At an altogether lesser level, it is worth looking out for the Ivan Furtado-trained ONEROA in the weeks ahead. The two-year-old caught the eye when a never-dangerous fourth to Mount Wellington in a Novice at Wolverhampton on 22 December, with TPD sectionals showing that she ran the last 2f easily quickest in 11.6s then 11.9s.
This qualified Oneroa for handicaps, and a BHA mark of 65 could well look generous judged on this.
Saturday’s Lingfield Park meeting is strong on quantity – eight races, all but one of them having attracted double-figure fields – if not on quality. There are winners to be found in there, however, and a couple of the races look quite inviting.
There are reasons not to fancy plenty in the Betway Sprint Handicap at 12.00 and I will be looking to split stakes between KASBAH – who ran some fast late sectionals at this course last time – and RECKLESS ENDEAVOUR. The latter shaped nicely at Newcastle last time and may be more at home at this 6f given the anticipated good pace.
Later on the card, it looks worth siding with TOP BEAK in the Betway Casino Handicap at 2.55 following an eye-catching run on this course last time. TPD sectionals show that the early pace in that race was fast, but it steadied markedly mid-contest and Top Beak got out of his ground before finishing strongest of all.
A truer pace looks likely here given the usual run style of many of his rivals, and Top Beak – a one-time Derby hopeful – can emerge from the wilderness that has seen his handicap mark plummet to a most winnable level.