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Timeform Sectional Debrief: Prince of Wales’s Stakes

23 Jun 2015

After the thrills of Royal Ascot, we get the sectional debriefs from Timeform as they analyse the Prince of Wales's Stakes.

Not every fast finisher is unlucky, and not every horse that hangs on from one is lucky, either. Such things always need to be viewed in context, not least the context of the pace of the race.

If a horse appears to be finishing fast it may be doing so simply because others are weakening; far from being unlucky, it may have been advantaged in running in the manner that it did.

Expert visual interpretation can be perfectly good at spotting these things, but sectional analysis goes a step further and formalises a framework for quantifying the degree to which horses were lucky or unlucky, at least in sectional terms.

The 2015 Prince of Wales’s Stakes – part of the QIPCO British Champions Middle-Distance Series – is a case in point. Free Eagle justified favouritism by a short head from The Grey Gatsby, with the latter still gaining at the line, having been a length or two back for most of the home straight.

In a strongly-run race that might have been an indication that the winner did well; in a steadily-run race it is likely to have been an indication of the opposite.  The 2015 Prince of Wales’s Stakes was a steadily-run race.

Not only was the overall time rather disappointing for horses of such high calibre, their finishing speed %s (finishing speed compared to average race speed) were a good deal higher than par, as can be seen.

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The Grey Gatsby is recorded as having run the last three furlongs 0.24s faster than Free Eagle (about 0.18s faster for the last two furlongs), which does not seem a lot, but then a short-head margin at the line is considerably less.

In the wider context of the race, and in line with the upgrading methodology expounded in the free-to-download “Sectional Timing: An Introduction by Timeform”, that is easily enough to have made the difference between victory and defeat. Sectionals have The Grey Gatsby the better horse – on the day – by about a length.

Free Eagle was only third-fastest in the closing stages, with fourth-placed The Corsican making inroads also from even further back. But that does not make The Corsican better than the winner: upgrades are applied to the result itself and The Corsican did not finish close enough for that to be the case, for all that he leapfrogs Western Hymn into third.

The above considers just sectionals (and just one sectional in this instance), of course. That may be somewhat limited, but it is an improvement on most other quantitative time analysis out there. However, any sensible analyst will consider other factors that might have been at play.

The Grey Gatsby got hemmed in for much of the closing stages and was only truly in the clear inside the final furlong, which arguably makes his effort all the more meritorious and exonerates his jockey of the charge of deliberately leaving things too late.

Against that, Free Eagle was running for the first time in eight months and only the fifth time overall: he got the run of the race under a fine ride from Pat Smullen, but it was still no mean effort to win at the highest level in such circumstances.

There should be fairer races on which to judge the respective merits of the protagonists than this year’s Prince of Wales’s Stakes, but all the signs are that The Grey Gatsby – unlucky as he was – is back to his previous best, and that Free Eagle should be likewise with this under his belt. The Corsican looks ten bob to a penny to win a Group race this year if all remains well, too.

It seems highly likely that we will see one or more of them in the four remaining races in the QIPCO British Champions Middle-Distance Series: the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown on July 4th, the QIPCO-sponsored King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on July 25th , the Juddmonte International Stakes at York on August 19th and the QIPCO Champion Stakes itself at Ascot on October 17th.

Now, that is a prospect to be relished.