Sectional Spotlight

Simon Rowlands runs the rule over the three Group 1 races for juveniles from Saturday and compares the victories of a Champion Chase contender with an Arkle Chase candidate from Cheltenham on Friday.

  • Wednesday 28 October
  • Blog
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As a man once said, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, though it is safe to assume that Dickens was not thinking of Saturday’s Vertem Futurity at Doncaster, won by MAC SWINEY

The overall time the colt recorded was one of the slower ones by a winner this century. But that was in large part down to the conditions, which were soft and possibly getting softer (changed to “heavy” officially after the first race).

Some clock-related aspects of the performance – such as consecutive early splits of 11.60s, 11.79s and 12.00s – were distinctly smart.

But going too fast early causes you to go slower at the end, and that applies whether it is you or me running for a bus or an elite thoroughbred finishing its race against other elite thoroughbreds.

Just what an effect this had in the Futurity can be seen, graphically and numerically, in the colour-coded Sectional Times tab in the Results Section on this site. Each of the runners recorded at least one “red” (fast) section early, at least a couple of “yellow” (even) sections mid-race, and two or more “green” (slow) sections late.

The all-important finishing speeds (speed in last 2f as a % of average speed for race overall) are remarkably slow, ranging from 93.6% for Mac Swiney to as low as 87.3% for the trailing King Vega, where 97.0% is par.

In relative terms, everything was plodding by the end, with final furlongs well in excess of 14.0s. Mac Swiney did that plodding better than his rivals.

That is not to decry Mac Swiney’s ability – he is very likely a smart performer, if one who has yet to show his form away from pretty soft ground – but such successively slow finishes mean that the margins between horses will have been exaggerated.

One of the messages from any time and sectional analysis of the race is that it is worth assessing the form of this year’s Futurity somewhat cautiously.

That, to a degree, is also true of the other Group 1 juvenile races at the weekend, both of which took place on even more testing ground at Saint-Cloud. But it applies more to one of those races than the other.

For some reason, unknown to me, Saint-Cloud does not have sectional timing, so you have to do it yourself, which is no easy matter at a track with relatively few clear features.

You also need to analyse the overall times in comparison to standard ones, so that any upgrading exists within context: a significant sectional upgrade to an already creditable overall time is much more impressive than the same to a mediocre one.

The Criterium International, won by VAN GOGH, resulted in a decent overall time – faster than the older-horse Group 3 at the same 1600-metre trip a bit earlier on the card – while the 2000-metre Criterium de Saint-Cloud, won by GEAR UP, was nearly 3.0s slower than the handicap which preceded it.

The following are what the DIY sectionals suggest, with the 592-metre sectional being at the beginning of the straight.

Finishing speed par appears to be around 103.0% in both cases. What you saw was largely what you got with the Criterium International, with Van Gogh deserving a little extra credit for how strongly he saw off his race. But Gear Up in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud looks to have been a shade fortunate to beat the less enterprisingly ridden Botanik and Makaloun (who I will be keeping on 113), while the Boussac winner Tiger Tanaka seemed not quite to stay in fourth.

It remains to be seen whether any of those mentioned will be major players in the classics of 2021 – possibly not – but it is important to understand the degree to which their efforts were solid (Van Gogh), or not (Gear Up), or somewhere in between (Mac Swiney).

DIY sectionals are also required for much of jump racing at present, though Total Performance Data are now covering over a dozen such courses, with more in the pipeline, the figures from which may be found in the Results Section of this site.

Pretty much every race at last week’s two-day Cheltenham Showcase Meeting produced something of interest from a sectional point of view, but I will concentrate here on the one-on-one comparison of Champion Chase contender ROUGE VIF and Arkle Chase contender FUSIL RAFFLES on the Friday.

By my reckoning, using video-editing software, their times for the 2 miles and 42 yards (including 63 yards added due to rail movements) were almost identical, despite what may be read elsewhere.  

As they carried the same weight, that comparison reflects better on Fusil Raffles than on his more seasoned “rival”. But those overall times were achieved in slightly different manners.

The sectional times are for the horses themselves and show that Rouge Vif was a few lengths ahead of par early while Fusil Raffles was a few lengths behind (times may be roughly converted to lengths at 5 lengths/second or 0.2s per length).

However, the shortfall of the latter was largely down to the slower opening section, or “run up” to the first fence. Fusil Raffles edged ahead of par around four out and three out but then came home more or less bang on par.

Rouge Vif paid a little, not a lot, for quite quick early splits – at one stage he was just over 10 lengths ahead of Fusil Raffles – which steadied between the eighth and three out, before he came home quite strongly. Uneven pacing is the enemy of efficiency and fast overall times.

My conclusion would be that both put up smart times, with Rouge Vif’s slightly more suppressed by the run of things. But Rouge Vif could have been expected to have run to a rating of about 163 on standards (BHA has 164), so it was no mean feat for a once-raced novice in Fusil Raffles to have matched him at this stage of proceedings.

There probably will not be many better two-mile novice chase performances on the clock than his come Cheltenham in March.

Sectional Spotlight
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