We live in unpredictable times, but if anyone had told me a few years ago that in 2019 we would have a Group 1 run on a Tapeta track, at Newcastle, and under floodlights, with sectional timing as the event unfolded and striding metrics afterwards, I would have thought they had a screw loose.
But that is precisely what is in prospect this Friday, when the Vertem Futurity Trophy has been diverted from a waterlogged Doncaster last Saturday to the pristine highway at Britain’s newest all-weather track.
Total Performance Data will be providing those advanced analytics, as they have been doing to a high standard at an increasing number of courses in recent years.
This all seems a far cry from the vocal opposition to having an all-weather track at Newcastle at all. To some, not least those who seldom went there, “ripping up” Newcastle’s turf surface was tantamount to sacrilege.
The all-weather course opened in May 2016, and before the year was out Enable – one of the greatest fillies of all time – had made a winning debut there. There has been no shortage of promising winners, and even losers, at the venue since.
So, what difference will it make that the final British Group 1 of the year will be run here rather than down the A1 at Doncaster? For those still not familiar with the nuances of Newcastle, here is a quick rundown.
Whereas Doncaster’s straight mile is almost entirely level, Newcastle’s rises steadily, by a total of about 26 feet over its length according to Google Earth.
In addition, the Tapeta surface at Newcastle tends to ride quite testing, at least according to Timeform, who categorised the going at the track as “slow” at 81% of this year’s race meetings.
My own figures are a bit less extreme, but it could certainly be argued that the last five meetings at Newcastle have taken place on either “slow” or “standard to slow” in reality.
The uphill finish and demanding surface means that horses run nearly a length per furlong slower late on at Newcastle than at Doncaster in order to achieve a comparable standardised time.
Stamina is unlikely to be at as much of a premium on Friday as it would have been in the mud at Doncaster, but it should still count for plenty. Which is how it should be for a race founded (as the Timeform Gold Cup) with a view to ensuring that good staying juveniles had sufficient opportunity.
Kinross’s claims are based on one run and win, at Newmarket, in which he posted a time 1.42s quicker than the useful three-year-old Dutch Treat later on the card as well as some impressive sectionals in beating a colt who has won well since.
Innisfree has been a slower burner, but his last-time defeat of Shekhem in the Group 2 Beresford Stakes at the Curragh seems to have been under-assessed in some quarters due to an overall time which was slower than other mile ones on the same card because it took place on a separate part of the track and almost certainly over further.
Whatever the outcome, we have a terrific race in store and a bit of history being made at 6pm on Friday, live on Sky Sports Racing.
Doncaster managed to race last Friday before the elements took their predictable toll. The temptation may be to pay little regard to form achieved on heavy ground, but the same principles of time analysis apply as under more usual conditions: differences in abilities are manifested in times.
There was a noteworthy difference in both overall times and sectionals between the mile races which opened the card, with the nursery won by She’s A Unicorn over 3.0s slower than the Fillies’ Maiden won by Domino Darling 35 minutes later.
That difference cannot be explained away by pace, as the following breakdown of the Total Performance Data sectionals shows.
Domino Darling was faster than She’s A Unicorn in every section bar one (the 6f out to 5f out one, in which she was 0.03s, or about a head, slower), and considerably so in a few of them. Look at those last two sections, in which Domino Darling ran 0.47s and 0.77s – a total of at least six lengths – quicker.
She’s A Unicorn is an ordinary performer, who ran off 74 here, but she carried 6lb less than did Domino Darling, who was making her debut remember, and effectively finished 15 lengths plus behind her.
That is an oddly slow time by the former but almost certainly an encouragingly quick one by the latter, running in the colours of her sire Golden Horn and representing the William Haggas stable.
My money is on Domino Darling – and the filly who pushed her close, Gold Wand, who is also by Golden Horn – being useful next year and quite possibly Group class. That is likely to be at 10f plus, especially where the former is concerned, and you don’t really need striding measures to confirm that.