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Sectional Debrief Special: Future Champions Day and Champions Day

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Simon Rowlands has analysed the sectional times on Champions Day, and makes an interesting comparison between Noble Mission and his big brother Frankel.

The British autumn weather did its best to spoil the end-of-season party at Future Champions Day at Newmarket and British Champions Day itself at Ascot, but in the final analysis it failed: the surface at both tracks was perfectly raceable, and times implied that it was no softer than “good to soft” for the former occasion. Both events were well-attended and featured some notably high-quality performances.

One small but important element of the action was sectional timing – available both on-screen and quickly after the event for more considered analysis – provided efficiently and in a timely manner by TurfTrax. Anyone wanting all the figures – for each individual horse and for each individual furlong – should check out the “Tracking Data” at http://www.turftrax.co.uk/tracking-technologies.html.

With much ground to cover over the two days, it is best to kick on, but only after a quick reminder of some of the principles which underpin sectional analysis.

It is a fundamental law of Physics that inefficient distribution of energy will compromise the overall time in which a horse completes a race. In order to establish “how to run fast/efficiently”, we identify instances in which horses have run good overall times, as well as the sectionals which gave rise to those times. After some manipulation of the data, including turning the figures into finishing speed %s, these are used to establish sectional “pars”. Lastly, a way has been established to upgrade performances in which horses have departed from sectional par, so that the full value of sectionals can be harvested.

The following is a summary of just some of the rich information which may result.

future champions day sectionals

The main contests with the “future” in mind are the two-year-old Group 1s, races three to five inclusive. But it is interesting to note that the opener – a nursery won off a mark of 75 by Little Lady Katie – produced a faster overall time than the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes won by Belardo.

The former was strongly-run, with everything behind the first two getting upgraded for going faster than par, and the latter was slowly-run, with the leader getting to 3f out 2.1s slower: but that is still remarkable. Belardo showed a smart turn of foot, running the last 1f in 12.69s (fastest on the entire card), but essentially the form of the Dewhurst looks a bit suspect.

More solid is the form of the vision.ae Middle Park Stakes, in which Charming Thought nosed out Ivawood. This was run at a sound pace, enough so that the principals were beginning to slow (compared to sectional pars) in the final 1f. The sectionals point to similarly small upgrades for the first two, while third-placed Muhaarar (disputed lead before going on at halfway) gets upgraded a bit more.

The overall time recorded by Together Forever in winning the Dubai Fillies’ Mile was disappointing for a race of this calibre. Sectionals identify a steady early pace and a faster-than-par finish, but the upgrades are not large. Runner-up Agnes Stewart ran the last 2f quickest of all and can be rated alongside the winner.

Again, the inclusion of a handicap on an otherwise Championship card proved to be of considerable analytical interest, as it happened. Bronze Angel ran the straight mile nearly 1 sec quicker in winning the Balmoral Handicap than did Charm Spirit in winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, despite sectionals suggesting the latter was run at close to a true pace. Given their abilities, the difference could have been expected to be about the same in the opposite direction.

Then again, all the runners in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (and in the QIPCO British Champions Sprint earlier on the card) came up the stand side, but horses which did that in the Balmoral failed to cut much ice. Time analysis has been adjusted for this apparent bias.

Sectionals do not “answer” the question as to whether Charm Spirit was fortunate to hold off Night of Thunder, as that is more a matter of ground covered and room to manoeuvre than energy efficiency, per se (it would be nice to have measurements of such things one day). Indeed, they imply mark-ups of similar amounts for the first two, and for never-nearer Toormore in third, while showing just how much the early leaders wilted in the testing conditions.

Sectionals show that the aforementioned Sprint was not run at a flat-out pace, with the opening 1f where the most damage was done, but they suggest the result was valid enough, with never-nearer fourth Maarek getting the biggest mark-up of the principals.

They point to Big Orange and Pallasator overdoing things slightly in the opening QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup, with the promising Forgotten Rules coming from some way back turning in to prevail. But that was nothing compared to a rare old pace burn-up in the QIPCO British Champions Fillies Mares which saw the race fall into the lap of Madame Chiang.

It could be argued that any one of the first eight might have prevailed in the latter with a different pace scenario, with third-placed Chicquita getting the biggest mark-up of the principals (though her problems were also of her own making). This appears suspect form, though there may be limited opportunity to test that notion hereafter.

But performance of the day – in many respects, not just in terms of times and sectionals – came from Noble Mission in gutsing it out from the front in the QIPCO Champion Stakes. Noble Mission has been a horse whose sectionals have often surpassed his raw achievements, and he saw his race out this time to deliver that big performance.

Sectionals show that Noble Mission ran quite hard from the outset, and that he and Al Kazeem were slower than par in the closing stages. But, by then, they had done for the large majority of their rivals, the nip-and-tuck finish reflecting great credit on both horses and sure to live long in the memory.

No matter what Noble Mission does, he always runs the risk of being referred to as “Frankel’s kid brother”, though the comparison is nothing like so lop-sided as it once was. The fact that Noble Mission has now won the Champion Stakes, as did Frankel two years earlier, invites more direct comparison of their respective worth.

Judged by times on both cards, the two races were run on very similar ground, with Frankel recording 130.22s to Noble Mission’s 131.23s, a difference of around five lengths which is a remarkably close reflection of the difference in their respective achievements on the day.

Thanks to sectionals, we can superimpose the two performances.

frankel and noble mission

Noble Mission was faster through all but one sectional until the home straight, whereupon Frankel went into overdrive and (hypothetically, at least) came from nine lengths behind to be five lengths in front at the line.

A rather fanciful exercise, perhaps, but it underlines some of the differences, and not just the similarities, in the two performances along the way.

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