Last weekend saw the 100th running of the Irish 2000 Guineas and if nothing else it proved a triumph for the Pattern system with the four horses that had previously won Group 1 races filling the first four places and the race providing veteran trainer Jim Bolger with a 1-2 in a contest he had never won previously.
There are few tougher Flat courses than the Curragh when it comes to compiling timefigures, but helpfully Saturday’s card had two other races besides the Guineas that were run over the same course and distance (the Curragh has two separate mile starts) enabling us to return timefigures with more confidence than is sometimes the case.
Sadly, drizzly conditions and some unhelpful camerawork made getting sectionals all but impossible, but taking times to the ‘elbow’ after two and a half furlongs or so and comparing them with the later races, particularly the well-run three-year-old handicap won by Create Belief reveals that the Guineas was something of a tactical affair in which Mac Swiney had an advantage under a smart front-running ride.
His winning time of 1.41.32 must be viewed in the context of the filly Create Belief’s 1.41.85 an hour later, from an official handicap mark of 87 yet carrying 5lb more, meaning his timefigure is a lowly 108.
Mac Swiney has been cut to as short as 6/1 for the Derby, a race his sire New Approach won in 2008. He promises to stay, but it’s not a price that appeals much even if he did get the soft ground there that he appears most effective on.
The placed horses Poetic Flare, none the worse for his Parisian jolly the week before, and Van Gogh particularly could have done with more emphasis on stamina. Newmarket Guineas winner Poetic Flare will hopefully lock horns again at Ascot with Chindit, who we’d hoped to see at the Curragh but for whom underfoot conditions wouldn’t have suited as things turned out.
Sunday’s card saw a broader set of race distances raced over, including the extended mile and a quarter where Noel Meade landed his first Group 1 winner on the Flat in the Tattersalls Gold Cup with Helvic Dream in a timefigure of 123, but once again there was another mile race with which to measure the Irish 1000 and, much as the day before, the winning Guineas timefigure (103) was rather humdrum in comparison .
That might have had something to do with the later handicap winner Visualisation ending up on the stand rail whereas the Guineas field raced far side, but neither the 2020 Fillies’ Mile winner Pretty Gorgeous nor 1000 third Fev Rover gave their running, and some seemingly ordinary fillies finished close up.
Seeing how the race panned out, it’s not hard to understand why the winner Empress Josephine had been tried over further last time, but even the ability to factor sectional upgrades into the overall analysis this time thanks to more accommodating pictures only inflates the winner to 109 on time.
One would normally be looking upwards of 110 for a race like this, so this doesn’t look a bunch of fillies to be getting carried away with, just yet at least, for all the winner and the fourth (Belle Image) are probably a couple of lengths better than the result.
Staying with Ireland, in part in response to several Irish tracks seemingly making a greater effort to provide more accurate race distances, Timeform have extended their Irish timefigure coverage to include Clonmel, Wexford and Downpatrick over jumps, and Gowran Park on the Flat.
As we hinted above, returning timefigures from Irish meetings is seldom straightforward. Punchestown reportedly has eight different track configurations available, for example, while Cork is another vast, featureless tract of land with unlimited potential for unreported rail movements. Two major jumps tracks that we haven’t yet nailed down, however, are Al Boum Photo’s New Year haunt Tramore, and Thurles.
I’ve only ever been to Ireland once, spending a wonderful fortnight based close to Wexford, but the one time I got to Tramore I was refused entry to the local swimming pool unless I bought a pair of unflattering and ridiculously overpriced swimming trunks from the pool shop and I’ll just have to reconcile myself that Tramore and myself just don’t get along.
One of the reasons I prefer to assess races under both codes using several timing points is that using one point by itself can be extremely misleading to the extent that relying on the sectional information by itself can lead to incorrect conclusions.
Readers will be aware of the increasing use of finishing speeds in post-race analysis to indicate whether a race was run at a sound pace or not, but for those unaware, in very general terms, races where the finishing speed (usually measured over the last two or three furlongs) compared to the overall race speed exceeds 100% generally indicate those where the pace wasn’t as strong as it could have been and vice versa (though the configuration of some tracks makes finishes above or below 100% much more common than others).
The following example shows how using one sectional in isolation can be dangerous. At Catterick’s penultimate Flat meeting in 2019, the card concluded with two handicaps over fourteen furlongs. The first was won by Miss Ranger in a finishing speed Timeform calculated at 110%; the second division went to Gordana in a finishing speed of 93%.
Knowing nothing else, one might conclude that Miss Gordana’s race was slowly run while Gordana’s race was strongly run. In fact, both were slowly run, but whereas Miss Ranger’s race turned into a sprint, Gordana had his sewn up a long way out after stealing a fifteen-length advantage heading out onto the final circuit his limited rivals never looked like pegging back, leaving him to coast home in a ‘slow’ finish.
Anyone who has noted down the handful of horses we’ve flagged up in this column so far will have been rewarded with another couple of winners last week in Iron Port and Eve Lodge, albeit at short prices after a deluge of non-runners.
When discussing Iron Port’s Uttoxeter win, we mentioned how ’partial’ times or ‘intra-race’ times over jumps can be something of a hidden treasure trove of useful information, and said at the time that he had the potential to go up around 25lb in the ratings (he is now 21lb higher after being hiked another 11lb for his 16-length win at Worcester last Friday where he came home fastest of all form the final hurdle).
In a similar vein, two more jumpers who have caught my eye lately are Hello Sunshine and Wrong Direction. Races that are the last on the card when the ground is on the soft side yet are run at a stronger pace than earlier races, some of which may have been over shorter trips, always interest me, and Hello Sunshine won a race at Uttoxeter the weekend before last that just about fits that very bill.
Despite a strong gallop set by the runner-up Badness Backfires, nothing was able to come from out of the pack to challenge as the first two dominated and finished 13 lengths clear. Both look well handicapped near to hand, not least the winner who looked more settled in a tongue strap and, being a half-sister to Kapga De Lily, who really took off last winter over long trips in heavy ground, looks to have a fair bit of potential for improvement.
As for Wrong Direction, using the same fence-by-fence comparison with the earlier two-mile beginners chase won by 126-rated Bold Enough at Wexford two weeks back, Wrong Direction emerges with a huge amount of credit.
Forcing the pace in the staying chase, he reduced a four-second deficit from the last on the penultimate circuit to just one second on the climb to 3 out. As you might expect, he paid for those exertions on the long run to the second last, by which time pretty much everything else had pulled up, but as with much else in our great game lengths the bare facts don’t always tell the true story and on his effort the time before behind the smart hunter chaser Winged Leader (who looks to hold sound claims in the Champion Foxhunters Chase at Stratford this Friday) Wrong Direction can go one better soon off an unchanged mark of 114.
I will be off next week but will be returning the week after to shed some light on the Derby and Oaks.