Sectional Spotlight

Simon Rowlands puts Wednesday's Sussex Stakes under the microscope, and applauds Goodwood/TurfTrax's enlightening data.

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Perhaps we should keep this just between ourselves, but in addition to “racing” and Mohaather, sectionals were one of the real winners of yesterday’s Qatar Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.

There was plenty of comment beforehand to the effect that Mohaather had “only beaten Group 2 horses” previously and would have his comeuppance against the real stuff in this Group 1.

Those remarks ignored one vital clue to the puzzle: namely, that Mohaather's sectionals when winning the Summer Mile at Ascot the time before showed he was a bona-fide Group 1 horse already.

Those sectionals appeared in the Results Section on this site for all to see – with thanks to Ascot Racecourse and their partners Longines – and showed that Mohaather had run red-hot splits of 11.61s then 11.92s for the last two furlongs, which are, of course, slightly uphill.

That latter sectional has been surpassed by only one horse – Palace Pier in winning the St James’s Palace Stakes – since figures started being published. A lot of good horses, including sprinters, have got nowhere near it.   

When married with an overall time that was surprisingly decent given a rather soft mid-race gallop, it identified Mohaather as good enough to win a Sussex Stakes unless a real star turned up.

But, as is perhaps the case more at Goodwood’s mile than in most settings, you need luck as well as ability and adaptability, and for long enough it looked as if luck had deserted Mohaather and jockey Jim Crowley. Boxed up, and with all of his rivals ahead of him at one point, Crowley changed plans and switched his mount to the outside 2f out. The pair seemed to have too much to do until Mohaather produced some more red-hot splits to quicken past front-running Circus Maximus late on.

At the same time, Oisin Murphy on Kameko stuck to the inner and got no run, fourth passing the post and back on the bridle by then.

It is a tough game at times, but the importance of split-second decisions, which can go right or wrong in ways that simply cannot be foreseen, are one of the reasons it is so gripping.

Sectionals can also help us make sense of what happened in the Sussex Stakes itself. We have our eyes, of course, but only the clock can truly tell – in terms of hard numbers – whether or not the pace was honest and which horses did notably well, or poorly.
These are the splits I came up with using video-editing technology and a variety of camera angles. The all-important “par” figures in red are the run times and individual splits a horse could be expected to run if paced perfectly efficiently and achieving Mohaather’s 1m 38.75s overall time.

From this, we can tell that Circus Maximus got to halfway bang on par, though his rivals were slightly behind it, that the next two furlongs were slower than par then faster than par, and that the second-placed to fourth-placed horses ran their final 2fs close to optimum, while Mohaather ran them 0.80s (about five lengths) faster than par.

Overall, the 2020 Sussex Stakes was a pretty fair test in terms of pace, but it was far more nuanced than that in the detail. Not only Mohaather, but Siskin and sixth-placed San Donato showed flashes of top-notch speed. The latter has never entirely convinced with his stamina for a mile and is a better horse than the bare result here suggests. This has to go down as a personal best for Siskin but the final 100 yards saw him empty.

Circus Maximus received a peach of a ride for the second year running from Ryan Moore, who made the most of his stamina and track position without simply teeing things up for his rivals. It helps when you have a partner as willing as Circus Maximus is, no doubt.

Kameko’s effort requires plenty of qualitative as well as quantitative interpretation. He might have finished ahead of Circus Maximus with a clear run, and he might even have finished ahead of Mohaather, too, though that would probably have flattered him given Mohaather’s own tribulations.

The following is what the overall times and sectional upgrading – derived from the difference between par sectionals and actual sectionals – plus a bit of personal interpretation comes up with. 

I think we can all agree now that Mohaather is a good horse. But whether he is a better horse than Kameko, or Palace Pier and Pinatubo for that matter, can still be legitimately argued.

Sectional analysis can get you ahead of the game, but theory takes you only so far. That is why we run the races, of course!

Most of those reading this hopefully wish for a world in which data is used to broaden the appeal of the sport. The history of sectionals in Britain has been, and continues to be, somewhat up and down, but a couple of other recent developments have been unequivocally positive.

First, Goodwood Racecourse are to be congratulated for responding to my request to highlight furlong markers on the rails themselves when those rails are “out”.
If we reckon furlong markers add to the viewing experience – is there anyone who does not?! – then let’s make them more visible, especially when even more people than usual are having to watch on telly.

Highlighting furlong markers, as Goodwood have done impeccably this week, also makes it easier for the amateur timing enthusiast to analyse a race after the event - other courses please take note!

Second, the same course are providing detailed going, meteorological and other information in conjunction with TurfTrax. This includes live wind strength and direction readings which shed greater light on timings and on the likely impact of wind on tactics. The influence of wind on performance in horseracing is something I could write – and have indeed written – about at length.

But perhaps the biggest finding from the TurfTrax/Goodwood data is the degree to which wind strength and direction may vary within a race, never mind within a card. Most time analysts either ignore wind or assume it has a uniform impact.

For instance, the readings for the duration of the Sussex Stakes were 11.2 mph at the start (14.1 mph gust) to 6.7 mph at the finish, with the direction altering slightly for good measure. That should make a discernible difference to times.  

Going back a few years, the wind varied even more in strength and changed completely in direction on the day of Galileo Gold’s 2000 Guineas win - the times at Newmarket that day made a whole lot more sense if you were aware of that.

This is another area in which Goodwood deserve praise and in which other courses should take note. More of this, please!

Sectional Spotlight
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