The balmy days of late-spring and early-summer may seem far off right now, with snow falling as I write and sub-zero temperatures predicted for later this week, but dreams of such things help at least some of us to get through the winter months.
There is an old racing saying along the lines that "no trainer ever gave up the game with a live classic hope in his stable", and the same is possibly true of punters and ante-post vouchers. Horseracing is, after all, often another example of the triumph of hope over experience.
With that all in mind, I recently looked back at the tail-end of the last flat season – some of which I was absent for – in an effort to uncover some less-obvious classic clues. Two horses, above all others, took my fancy.
We know a good deal more about DANCING VEGA than we might do, thanks to the Total Performance Data sectionals and striding information from her only start, at Doncaster in October, which resulted in a four-length maiden win at a mile.
Those details, which can be found exclusively in the results section elsewhere on this site, show that Dancing Vega ran the last 2f of a mostly evenly-paced race in 24.8s, 0.2s (over a length) quicker than runner-up Blue Gardenia and several lengths quicker than anything else in the 10-runner field.
I had an 88 basic timefigure on Dancing Vega’s effort, on ground that was borderline “good” and “good to soft”, but that closing sectional – which represents a finishing speed of 100.9% of her average race speed – means that should be upgraded by at least a bit. Tellingly, Blue Gardenia went onto win a Newmarket listed race soon after.
Even more encouragingly, Dancing Vega seems very likely to be better at further as a three-year-old. Not only is she by the French Derby winner Lope de Vega and related to 10f performers, her stride frequency in that Doncaster race ranged between 2.14 and 2.29 strides/second. That kind of cadence can be extended more easily to middle distances than a faster one.
You would expect her to stay, and quite possibly be suited by, the 12f of The Oaks at Epsom, a race trainer Ralph Beckett usually has a runner in and has won twice already.
Someone on Twitter the other day implied that Dancing Vega was “obvious”, but she can be backed at between 25/1 and 33/1 for Epsom still and is carrying some of my hope and money.
Race replay: Dancing Vega wins on debut at Donny.
It is not so easy to figure out exactly what Godolphin’s SPACE BLUES achieved when winning his only two-year-old race also – at Nottingham in November – but I reckon it was plenty.
There are no TPD figures from that course, but advanced video analysis has the son of Dubawi running sub-12.0s for each of the last four furlongs and a remarkably swift 22.45s for the last two, on rain-softened ground.
He beat the promising Private Secretary by two and a quarter lengths, with five back to the third, and, while my basic timefigure is just 73, those scintillating sectionals suggest strongly that he is a Group winner in the making.
Over what trip that will be is not altogether clear. On breeding he would be no certainty to last The Derby, and his cadence at Nottingham (between 2.26 and 2.42 strides/second) is typical of an 8f/10f performer.
He will not have much opportunity to stake his claim as a Guineas candidate before the 4th of May, but I have had a nibble for that race (best priced 40/1 at the time of writing) and also for Epsom (33/1). Here’s hoping!
The all-weather should ensure that there is racing in Britain on Thursday, come what may, with two such meetings scheduled, at Newcastle and Southwell.
Some of the times at the former course recently have been very slow, even after allowing for the effect of wind, and, all in all, it could take quite a bit of getting. That could help the Irish raider NIGG BAY in the 5f handicap at 5:50 given his run style and the fact that he seemed not quite to get home at 6f at Dundalk last time.
He has got himself nicely handicapped, despite running respectably more often than not, and is fancied to add to his one win to date, at Navan last June.
LION HEARTED used to ply his trade in Ireland, to little effect, but proved a totally different proposition when landing a punt at Chelmsford City a week ago by fully six lengths. He gets to go off the same basement mark in the 7:30 at Newcastle on Thursday and really ought to win, and win easily.
With the trip the same this time and precious little in opposition despite the decent field size, it is difficult to see what can beat him.