This is the time of year when British racing fixates on events at its most idiosyncratic of flat racecourses. On Friday and Saturday, Classic hopefuls will take each other on for The Oaks and The Derby while also taking on the not-inconsiderable twists, turns, inclines, declines and cambers of the Epsom Downs.
There is nothing quite like it in horseracing anywhere else in the world, but another South-Eastern course bears a few similarities. The provision of Total Performance Data sectionals at Lingfield Park’s turf track, which commenced in May, enables us to see how a course with extreme topography affects the manner in which horses run their races.
The Oaks Trial and The Derby Trial at the course on 13 May make for interesting case studies. Google Earth tells us that Lingfield’s extended 11f turf track is fairly flat at the beginning and at the very end but features a rise of about 45 feet from the 7f marker to the 5f marker then a drop of about 42 feet, which is taken on a bend, to the 3f marker.
Those are big figures and rival Epsom’s 112-feet rise from the start of The Derby to the 7f pole (the stiffest climb in British racing, flat or jumps) and drop of 51 feet from the 4f marker to the 1f pole, for gradient if not for duration.
The combined sectionals for the Lingfield Trial winners Hertford Dancer and Best Solution convert into average speeds of 35.4 mph in the early part of their races, 32.0 mph on that stiff climb before halfway, 34.5 mph on the downhill sweep into the straight, and then 37.3 mph for the last 3f. That requires an adaptability and blend of speed and stamina which not many horses excel at.
What can be seen from the colour-coding of those sectionals elsewhere on the ATR site is that the pace varied even more in both of those races than might be expected given the course layout: the early section was fairly fast and the middle section was fairly slow.
Nonetheless, the sectionals and finishing speed %s point to both winners being so on merit, though Glencadam Glory did lose more time on Best Solution in the Derby Trial by starting slowly (1.0s) than he was beaten by that horse (0.6s) come the finish. With that in mind, this quirky individual is a big price in an open Derby.
That Lingfield Park meeting was almost three weeks ago, and anyone looking for horses to put into their ATR Tracker may be best advised to skip forward to the card at the same course on 24 May.
HUMBLE HERO ATR Tracker was left with a lot to do in the opener but finished so strongly that he failed by only a short head to get there. The TPD sectionals confirm that he was quickening, rather than that his rivals were slowing, and success at a similar level seems a formality.
Humble Hero earned the “flame” icon on the ATR Sectional Tools tab for a particularly fast finish relative to others in his race, and HEPPLEWHITE ATR Tracker did likewise in race 4 on the same card. The gelding lost his way a bit last year – ending up winning a seller on the AW here – but has been more encouraging since switched to William Muir’s stable and is now well-handicapped.
Windsor is a far more conventional track – as flat as the proverbial pancake though with a notably sharp home bend – but the same principles of efficient energy distribution apply.
AUTUMN LODGE ATR Tracker is of limited ability, but going as fast as he did in the opener at the course on 29 May took its inevitable toll, and he was out on his feet by the end. He had the misfortune of running into the flying Corinthia Knight the time before and can win a seller or nursery at 5f/easy 6f in the months ahead.
JUSTANOTHERBOTTLE ATR Tracker is all speed and seemed to find the rain-softened ground against him when third in race 4, showing up well enough for long enough to suggest he can go much closer when dropped a few pounds in the handicap.
Events elsewhere on Saturday afternoon will be in the limelight, but it is worth checking out one of the races at Doncaster less than an hour before The Derby for a possible betting opportunity. The 7f Fillies’ Handicap at 3.40 could end up with a small field, but a good pace seems likely if Hells Babe and Florenza (both of whom are jocked up) are declared.
That would suit CAROLINAE, who looks a likely runner and who has a sharp turn of foot for one running off a mark in the 80s. That speed was in evidence for her wins at Wolverhampton (22.2s last 2f) and Lingfield (23.0s last 2f) in the winter, and she has had excuses in two runs since.
Either way, it should be possible to evaluate the Doncaster event after the race on ATR’s website courtesy of TPD sectionals.
SUTTER COUNTY managed to beat a revitalised fast-sectional horse in Medahim at Goodwood last time, despite conceding him 12 lb, and a reproduction of that should see him home in front in the Listed Surrey Stakes at Epsom on Friday.
Sutter County’s name is one that will be very familiar to followers of the AW Championships and of that event’s accompanying sectionals. He once ran the penultimate 1f at Lingfield in a blistering 10.5s before finding only the smart Second Thought too good, and is yet another advertisement for the winter sport as well as for trainer Mark Johnston’s attacking policy.