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The Timeform Debrief: Sectional analysis from Champions Day

20 Oct 2015

Following the action on QIPCO British Champions Day, our friends at Timeform analyse the horse's performances at Ascot.

QIPCO British Champions Day 2015 at Ascot racecourse had a lot to offer both the racing purist and those with more of a passing interest. Top-class horses, top-class jockeys, some thrilling races, plenty of razzamatazz, reasonably clement weather and plenty of post-racing entertainment. What more could a person hope for?

Although undoubtedly in a minority, this person was hoping for some sectional timing to accompany British Flat racing’s flagship event. Sectional timing – the measure of how quickly individual horses run in different sections of a race – is widely used in other major racing jurisdictions and can shed considerably more light on what overall times and performances mean, and of how they were achieved.

In the absence of electronic sectionals, Timeform has processed manual ones: a difficult task at Ascot due to at-times-unhelpful camerawork and there being no furlong markers on the stand side of the narrowed course, but just about possible with the help of Racing UK’s on-screen clock and the input from Timeform’s on-course reporter.

Let’s take each championship race in the order in which they were run, with those manual sectionals for the first six home.

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The QIPCO British Champions Long-Distance Cup was a falsely-run affair, which resulted in a poor overall time for the calibre of horses involved. Those last-three-furlong finishing speed %s (the horses’ closing speeds as a % of their individual race speeds) are all much higher than par and confirm that the race turned into a sprint late on.

All the first three ran the closing stages quicker than any of the principals in the more truly-run Fillies/Mares and the Champion itself, despite this race being run at a markedly longer distance.

Clever Cookie finished fastest of all but could not quite get in a blow at the smart winner Flying Officer and might have been unlucky. The nature of the race means that the form can be considered suspect, but Flying Officer had already proved himself decidedly smart, with this his third win out of three in a late-starting campaign.

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Muhaarar’s win in the QIPCO British Champions Sprint was the timing highlight of a day of high-class action, though closely followed by the success of Fascinating Rock in the Champion itself. Indeed, Muhaarar has been a friend to overall-timing and sectional-timing analysts ever since he smashed the seven-furlong track record at Newbury in April.

A good overall time for Muhaarar gets upgraded a few pounds to allow for the strength with which he finished off the race, after he had travelled strongly just behind the pace. That pace had been true enough to allow Twilight Son and Danzeno to finish well from behind, with both getting sectional upgrades similar to that of the winner, while the progressive The Tin Man ran closest of the principals to sectional par.

The “right” horses chased Muhaarar home, but none of them looked in the same league as did he. Muhaarar has done it time and again – this was his fifth win from six starts this year – and at different distances and on different surfaces (this one just on the soft side of good).

Only Mecca’s Angel’s one-off win in the Nunthorpe threatens his supremacy as Champion Sprinter, and an above-average Champion Sprinter by recent standards at that.

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The QIPCO British Champion Fillies and Mares was a truly-run race which went to a deserving winner in Simple Verse, initially denied victory in the Ladbrokes St Leger then reinstated on appeal. That race was over an extended 14 furlongs and her stamina came into play late on in this as she ran down Journey.

There were no hard-luck stories from a sectional point of view, though Arabian Queen’s stamina seemed to give way late on after she had set the gallop, and the French raider Candarliya was one of a number who failed to run to their best. 

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What promised to be a rare clash between the top milers from France and Ireland, Solow and Gleneagles, in the QIPCO-sponsored Queen Elizabeth II Stakes proved a one-sided affair as the latter ran no sort of a race (connections blamed the softened ground) having missed engagements throughout the summer.

Solow has been solid, rather than spectacular, since his win in Dubai in March, but he finds a way to get the job done, and that was the case here, as he saw off Belardo and Gabrial with something to spare.

What requires some explaining is his overall time (and, by implication, the overall times of his rivals also), which was 1.08s slower than Musaddas recorded, carrying 11 lb less, in winning the concluding handicap over the same course and distance. That is a difference of roughly 5 lb in favour of Musaddas, when something like 13 lb the other way might have been expected.

The early pace in the Queen Elizabeth was steady (confirmed by times) but the closing sectional was not especially fast, and second and third closed from some way back.

What probably happened was that the pace was especially uneven, with the runners pressing on harder than ideal from halfway, resulting in a slow-fast-modest profile which tends to be particularly harmful to overall times (described on page 52 of Sectional Timing: An Introduction by Timeform with reference to Doyen’s win on the course in 2004).

Either way, Solow’s time is modest, while his last two furlongs does not prompt much of a mark-up. Connections are entitled to be far from bothered, though it should remain a relevant consideration to racing analysts given that the five-year-old is a gelding and likely to be taking on the best for some time yet.

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Fascinating Rock was a surprise winner of the QIPCO Champion Stakes but a meritorious one judged on the clock. His overall time is good – one of the best of the 2015 season – and he won decisively for all that there might have been some excuses for his nearest rivals.

A position a few lengths off the good pace set by Jack Hobbs’ pacemaker Maverick Wave was close to optimum for Fascinating Rock, while Found came from further back (and did not get an entirely clear run) and Jack Hobbs himself went on soon enough on turning in. The last-named’s finishing speed was the only one of the principals’ to dip below 100.

Nonetheless, a sectional rating of 127 for Fascinating Rock speaks for itself and represents a major turn-around in fortunes for a horse who had been unplaced at Windsor only two starts previously. Found has won only once this year but is one of the best fillies in training, as her second in the Irish version of this race also underlines.

There was no Frankel again this year, but the standard set by him in this race is unlikely to be attained again any time soon. Judged on more usual Group 1 terms, the 2015 Champion Stakes was an up-to-scratch contest, even if wider form still has Jack Hobbs marginally the best horse in it.