Flat Racing Season – What Did We Learn From The Opening Day?
The Flat racing season belatedly got underway at Newcastle today.
Starting with matters away from the action on the track, there are lessons horse racing can learn for the wholesale benefit of the industry.
- 10 runner cards
- No single digit fields
- Quality racing on a Monday
I know we’ve been starved of action for a few months so anticipation was high, but I enjoyed the new format and would see the changes improving the image of racing. Getting more customers through the door (yes, I know it’s behind closed doors for now) and increasing appeal will drive racecourse revenue and betting revenue,
UK racing needs betting revenue, which in turn filters back into horse racing through levy contributions. More races appeal as greater value for the paying customer, minimum numbers of runners means more competitive events and quality over quantity, especially away from the weekend and festival meetings will drive betting turnover.
Do we really need 8 cards a day of 6 races apiece in the peak of the season?
Food for thought, just my initial opinion. It’ll be interesting to see how these changes are received and if the BHA acts once were beyond coronavirus.
“Watching the sixth race” flickr photo by walkinguphills https://flickr.com/photos/peerlawther/6533644311 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
Flat racing season opening day track action
There were several very promising performances by horses who look to have bright futures.
Visually, Art Power, Edraak, Oakenshield, Alignak, Frankly Darling and Valyrian Steel all put up very impressive performances.
Sectional times at Newcastle
Looking at these performances solely form an angle of sectional timings can add a different perspective to the merit of their efforts.
Art Power made all and came home 5 ½ lengths clear of his nearest rival. The early pace was even and the race finish percentage (RF%) was 99.39% (race finishing speed percentage over the final 2 furlongs).
An even early pace and RF% close to 100% indicates an even distribution of a horse’s energy throughout. An even pace is the key to producing a good overall time figure, go too fast or too slow in any section of the race and it isn’t an efficient use of a horse’s energy.
In the case of Art Power, it means the overall speed figure will stand up for this race, there was no fluke about Art Power’s win and no hard luck stories from horses unfavoured by a pace bias.
Division 1 of the novice race was won by Edraak in a time 1.61 seconds slower than Art Power. There are other factors to build into any overall speed figure, weight carried and weight for age need to be accounted for but on a bare time difference, 1.61 seconds equates to just over 10 lengths or 26 lbs.
Arguably Edraak was equally impressive in winning his division of the novice, though a quick study of the sectionals shows the race was run in a very different style.
The early pace was ‘slow’, this would normally favour horses racing towards the front of the field. The final 2 furlongs recorded a quick RF% of 107.28%.
Edraak will have been favoured by racing close to the slow early pace. The quick closing sectional shows the race was not an efficient use of energy and the overall time figure will likely reflect this. You can see this in the basic comparison with the overall time recorded by Art Power
I’m always cautious of races with an overly slow early pace, the form often won’t stand up. By that I mean you can get a very different result from the same horses if they race off a quick early pace.
I don’t want to overly distract from the performance of Edraak because of the way the race unfolded. He clocked 11:09 seconds between 2 furlongs and 1 furlong out, that’s very quick, not many horses post a sectional that fast
Coming into the 3-year-old handicap I wanted to be against Oakenshield, on what he’d achieved I thought he was harshly treated. He won impressively and improved considerably in doing so.
The sectionals here are very interesting. They went very quick early in the race, too quick and that resulted in a very slow final 2 furlongs at 94.54%. Without the sectionals and purely watching the race you might think Oakenshield quickened away from his field in the final furlong. He didn’t, he recorded a final furlong time of 13.77 seconds, compare that to Edraak’s 11:09 seconds furlong and it shows you how they slowed at the end of Oakenshield’s race.
So, how do you interpret this?
Off a fast early pace you’d expect the early leaders to fade and the held up horses that have gone slower early in the race to pass rivals in the closing stages.
That didn’t happen here, Oakenshield sat behind the early speed and Barbarella and Alix James who set the early pace finished 2nd and 3rd!! Either the front 3 or all on decent handicap marks or the remainder of the field are very poor and unlikely to be winning off there current marks. Difficult to be confident which?
That Oakenshield stayed on so well having raced prominently suggests it was stamina that won him the race. I’d be confident he will be effective and possibly improve when stepping up from 6 furlongs.
It’ll be interesting to follow his progress and see how he performs when in a race where there’s a more efficient use of energy. I think you can mark up today’s effort given the way the pace panned out and he could be one to stay on the right side of in his next few outings.
I thought Alignak needed to improve to win his race and he duly did, winning in taking style. Looking at the sectionals the race was run at a stop-start pace, fast early before they slowed it right down mid-race and then a quick RF% of 107.59%.
His performance can be marked up as he was held up well in rear and produced a quick final 2 furlong split to get up close home.
A son of the highly promising sire Sea The Moon, he’s a lightly raced improving winner trained by Sir Michael Stoute who I’m sure will go up in class now. He’d be the type to stay on the right side of until beaten.
Frankly Darling was an emphatic winner in a race run at a similar tempo to the Alignak race, fast-slow-fast and she posted an RF% of 105.86%.
She was in a different league to her rivals today and benefited from the step up to 10 furlongs. A daughter of Frankel, 12 furlongs is going to be no problem and probably see her better still. A Group class filly in the making.
From a sectional times viewpoint, arguably the most interesting performance on the day came from the debutant Valyrian Steel.
This son of Frankel is bred to be decent, his dosage profile (DI 0.93 CD 0.04) points to a horse who is going to prove best at middle distances.
The sectional profile of the race was similar to the previous two contests. Faster than average in the first 2 furlongs, it then slowed for the mid-part of the race before a quick final 3 furlongs. Before looking at the sectional breakdown it’s worth noting that the overall time was almost a second slower than the preceding race won by Frankly Darling. This gives some comparisons to the merit of the two performances.
What is interesting digging into the sectional times is the final section of the race was run in a RF% of 107.78, Valyrian Steel completed the same section in a rapid 110.14%, a particularly noteworthy time.
Looking at Valyrian Steel’s race position, he raced at the rear until the home straight. With his track position, he would have been unfavoured with how the race was run, out the back off a slower than average mid-race pace. His performance can be marked up on the bare form he achieved.
Away from the sectionals times, it was noteworthy how ‘green’ or immature Valyrian Steel looked in the race. When asked to chase down the leaders he hung right and then left looking a little uneducated on the task in hand. With the experience behind him I’d expect him to prove a little straighter next time.