Graeme North reflects on the latest action
Graeme North reflects on the latest action

Racing analysis: Graeme North on the Classic weekend

There are many ways of interpreting form, of course, but it’s not often that you’ll hear someone who uses times as their main analytical tool admit that a result is ‘hard to assess’ or something similar.

Sometimes they will, of course, when complicating factors such as persistent heavy rain through the card, extremely windy conditions, a big rail bias or laughably inaccurate race distances comes into play, but the ability to reference a set of winning times against a set of robust final time standards aided and abetted by some sectional fine tuning, allow for pretty much any performance to be put into a current and historical context with a decent amount of accuracy.

So what to make of Snowfall whose 16-length win in the Oaks was the biggest winning margin in any Group 1 race on these shores since the Lady Herries-trained Celtic Swing took the Racing Post Trophy by 12 lengths in 1994 (Septimus won the Irish St Leger by 13 lengths in 2008).

Oisin Murphy's brilliant commentary of the Cazoo Derby: As it happened!

Celtic Swing never hit those heights again, though he did win one Classic, the Prix du Jockey-Club, and came within a head of landing another when touched off by Pennekamp in the 2000 Guineas, but among the three-year-old fillies for now, Snowfall looks peerless.

Her Timeform rating of 122 is second only to that posted in the race by dual Arc winner Enable in recent times but her timefigure, also 122, is slightly higher than Enable recorded and is the co-second-best this century behind Ouija Board in 2004.

Timeform’s own sectionals, augmented by those on the RTV website, reveal that Snowfall came home much the fastest from the path crossing the course at the top of the straight and also ran each of the last three furlongs progressively faster than all her rivals (the last furlong be a second and a half) while her last two-furlong time was just 0.19 seconds slower than Adayar managed on much faster ground the following day (Timeform called the ground soft for the Oaks and good to soft for the Derby) albeit on opposite rails.

Snowfall isn’t the first Aidan O’Brien horse to find a ton of improvement having previously looked exposed, and it would appear the combination of a sound gallop and soft ground, conditions usually prevalent at Longchamp in October, were the catalyst for that.

Frankie Dettori pulls well clear on Snowfall
Frankie Dettori pulls well clear on Snowfall

Mystery Angel deserves credit for hanging onto second after being the one responsible for cutting out the strong pace and like most others behind the winner emerges with a hefty sectional upgrade, albeit one that still doesn’t get her anywhere near the winner.

As for Adayar, on the clock he pretty much matched Snowfall, posting a 121 (a run-of-the-mill Derby winning timefigure) in the smallest field since Camelot beat eight rivals by five lengths in 2008 (his winning distance was the largest since then too).

Like Snowfall, Adayar ran each of the last three furlongs progressively faster than all his rivals though not to the extent she did, and he was the only horse to dip below twelve seconds in each of the last four furlongs. That increasing superiority over a horse, Mojo Star, who himself ran the last two furlongs faster than any of those behind him and didn’t fail for stamina, suggests that Adayar has a bigger performance in him over further though its’ doubtful connections will be tempted by that route.

‘Big moves into contention’ often don’t stack up when delving deeper into the sectionals but the inexperienced John Leeper ran the third quarter easily the fastest of all and that despite covering more ground than anything else, in contrast to Adayar who never left the rail. He’s probably a decent horse, if not the top prospect a mating between Frankel and Snow Fairy might have hoped for.

St Mark's Basilica in winning action
St Mark's Basilica wins the French Derby

Over in France, St Mark’s Basilica added a second Classic to his roster by landing the Prix du Jockey-Club at Chantilly in solid fashion. Still known as the ‘French Derby’ despite its non-standard Derby distance of ten and a half furlongs, the Jockey-Club was a well-run affair with Normandy Bridge (a horse we flagged up as of interest after his Poulains run but on the face of it unsuited by this much faster ground and possibly different tactics) taking them along to 300m out when St Mark’s Basilica put the race to bed.

His last 300m (36.43 seconds according to the official timing system, equating to a finishing speed of just under 100%) was the slowest of all the final 300m winners fractions all day and wasn’t even the fastest in the race itself.

That honour went to fourth-placed Saiydabad who ran the last 300m in 35.88 and was one of only two (the other being his stablemate Cheshire Academy) who dipped under 36 seconds for said section. The Jockey-Club hasn’t been won by a horse drawn higher than 7 since New Bay scored from 13 in 2015, so Cheshire Academy’s effort from stall 19, the widest stall of all, shouldn’t be underestimated.

He’ll be well suited by a mile and a half and looks a long-range candidate for the Arc, either this year or next.

Timeform Race Passes offer

A few weeks ago I asked the question on social media why there is so much jumps racing ‘out of season’. I can’t say I received a satisfactory answer, but I suppose 186 runners across 15 races at Kilbeggan and Perth last Sunday provided the answer.

The upcoming jumps fixture list, away from Ireland at least, where a near two-week break has been imposed, finally shows signs of easing off but with the focus here firmly on lower-level fixtures - no chance of a Cheltenham Festival winning-headliner such as at Listowel on Monday - there ought to be plenty of opportunities for a couple of horses, Merry Berry and Timeforaspin, whose recent wins are almost certainly worth a fair bit more than they look.

Merry Berry qualifies on account of an angle I mentioned before - horses who, late on in the card and over longer distances than some earlier races, run much faster through the race. The two-and-a-half mile handicap she won at Huntingdon last week was the fifth and final hurdle on the card, yet she ran the distance from the first hurdle in the two-mile race to the sixth hurdle over five seconds faster (well over 20 lengths given the conditions) than any of the leaders in the earlier races and was still four seconds faster passing the winning post.

Timeform awarded her a winning timefigure of 109, but her inter-hurdle timefigures (something I’ll delve into in more detail once the jumps season proper starts in the autumn) would put her in the low 130s and even a 11lb hike in the weights is unlikely to stop her next time (interestingly, the runner-up Regaby, the only one at Huntingdon to make a move out of the pack to join her briefly on the home turn, is entered at Worcester this week and should go well).

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Timeforaspin’s win at Ffos Las has been one of many lately accompanied by a gamble. Using multiple sectional points rather than just one allows a better overall interpretation of a performance (essentially the thinking behind developing inter-hurdle timefigures) and this methodology shows Timeforaspin in a very good light.

Setting out to make all the running, Timeforaspin ran the distance from the first hurdle to the fifth hurdle six seconds faster than did any of the other hurdle races on the same day using the same metric. He was still two seconds faster from the same starting point jumping two out, yet despite this came home from there faster than any of the other hurdle winners and even ran the distance from the last to the line nearly a second faster than anything else.

Inter-hurdle times suggest he too could be rated in the low 130s and how he has thieved just a 10lb rise is beyond me. Fourth-placed Dorking Rogue, still lightly raced, kept him company for a long way and has the potential to do better, though on the negative side his hurdling was as shoddy as there’s been since King Uther graced the scene.

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