Tahiyra was impressive in the Matron
Tahiyra was impressive in the Matron

Watch & Learn: Timefigure analysis from Graeme North

Our timefigure guru is back to reflect on a hectic weekend of Group racing action in Ireland, England and France.

Quality wise, weekends on the Flat in Britain and Ireland have been either feast or famine of late and following on from the most underwhelming weekend of the year that saw just two Group Threes at home and one in Ireland, the latest weekend piled in with the Betfair Sprint Cup as well as a trio of Group Threes in Britain while Ireland staged no fewer than six Group Ones supported by four Group Twos or Threes.

And with another five Group races in France on ‘Arc Trials weekend’ to digest as well, I’d better crack on.

Sectional timing may have been in operation at both Leopardstown and the Curragh at the weekend, and I’ll make use of some of the times published by Course Track as I go on, but with official times at Leopardstown deviating from Timeform’s reporter hand times by a margin far larger than is acceptable, all timefigures returned for Leopardstown used times derived from video editing software which even then saw discrepancies from the official time of between 0.46 and 0.7 seconds. Hardly a satisfactory state of affairs.

Diego Velazquez will need more going up in class

The first Group race of the day at Leopardstown was the Group Two Champions Juvenile Stakes and saw expensive purchase Diego Velazquez, a close relative of Broome and Point Lonsdale, retain his unbeaten record.

His official winning time was easily the slowest of the three races run over a mile, almost three seconds slower in fact than Tahiyra in the following Group One Matron Stakes and translates only into a 91 timefigure boosted to 97 by sectional upgrades.

His final three-furlong time on the back of a steady early pace was the fastest of all the winners according to Course Track, around a length faster than his stablemate and Group winner in the making Broadhurst managed off an official handicap mark of 93 in the concluding handicap and given his breeding it’s not difficult to envisage Diego Velazquez improving a chunk given a stronger gallop and an extra furlong.

That said, his form falls around a stone below what would be needed in the Futurity Trophy at Doncaster, and though O’Brien managed the double with Auguste Rodin last year, it’s worth bearing in mind that his three previous Champion Juvenile winners since the race was upgraded to Group status who ran again as two-year-olds all fell short when upped in grade.

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In contrast, Tahiyra’s winning time translates into a timefigure of 118 which is the same as she recorded when winning the 1000 Guineas and underlines her status as a top-class miler. Reportedly weighing 10 kilograms heavier than when a workmanlike winner at Royal Ascot, Tahiyra always looked the likely winner but might have been given more to do had the still-improving Rogue Millennium been kept in closer touch on her way to running the fastest last three furlongs in the race and a career-best 115 timefigure.

Rogue Millennium’s rider Danny Tudhope made no such mistake in the last of the mile races, the Group Two Dullingham Stakes, winning on Karl Burke’s Flight Plan. As a 99 timefigure suggests, this first win at Group level owed much to a tactically astute front-running ride with the Course Track sectionals revealing that no fewer than six of those that chased him home ran the final three furlongs faster than he did!

Weld's words came home to roost in Irish Champion

Dermot Weld commented after the Matron that the best way to ride Leopardstown is to keep it simple, and Kevin Stott must be wishing he’d been given that advice before losing his retainer with Amo Racing after King Of Steel’s fourth place in the Irish Champion Stakes.

Stott, who hadn’t even ridden at Leopardstown before Saturday, confessed after the race that he had probably had King Of Steel too far back, while Hollie Doyle, who partnered third-placed Nashwa and had her even further back than King Of Steel in the early stages, rather surprisingly claimed the five-length Falmouth winner couldn’t have gone any faster in the early stages.

The Irish Champion was a well-run race, certainly, with Auguste Rodin winning his third Group One of the season in a career-best 124 timefigure with his stable-companion and runner-up Luxembourg repeating the 123 he had posted in 2022 when beating Onesto (a disappointment this year) by half-a-length.

Sectional analysis suggests if anything the horse in the first six who deserves his effort upgrading the most is Point Lonsdale, but given he appeared to run a career best after sitting on the heels of the pace-making Luxembourg I’d be wary of taking this too literally.

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Sectional upgrades have the potential to mislead greatly if the horses in question get to the sectional point much slower than they could have done, even in well-run races – Serpentine’s Derby a good case in point – and if Stott’s instinct was that he had his horse too far back I wouldn’t go out of my way to disagree. Neither Doyle, whose ride on Nashwa was just her fifth at Leopardstown, nor Alflaila’s rider Jim Crowley, a very rare visitor to Leopardstown over the years despite his high-profile retainer, covered themselves in glory as I read it and Doyle, who should arguably have won the Group One Nassau at Goodwood on Nashwa as well, might consider herself fortunate that Imad Al Sagar who retains her is a bit more patient than Kia Joorabchian.

The other Group race at Leopardstown, the Group Three Paddy Power Stakes, saw the Irish Derby runner-up Adelaide River make the most of a drop in grade. Once again, a prominent race position was key, with the winner controlling the race from the front to score in a 98 timefigure while coming home slower than the trio who chased him home among whom the rejuvenated Al Aasy (Jim Crowley) looked unlucky given the amount he was set to do in relation to the winner.

No grounds for concern at the Curragh

The weather wasn’t quite as pleasant at the Curragh the following day, but the track took the heavy showers that fell very well and judged on times there wasn’t any deterioration in the ground which begs the question why the stewards weren’t more demanding of Aidan O’Brien for a more satisfactory answer regarding City of Troy’s late defection from the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes other than it being down to the ground when there had been no official change in the going description.

That disappointing episode left the way for his stablemate Henry Longfellow to represent Ballydoyle yet despite a decent pace set by an Amo-deployed pacemaker - who surely wasn’t required - he came in at 109 on the clock which is just 2lb faster than the filly Fallen Angel mustered in the Moyglare Stud Stakes over the same trip half an hour earlier.

A five-length winning margin is the biggest since Pinatubo’s nine-length success in 2019 but with only four going to post (the smallest field this century), Phoenix winner Bucanero Fuerte not giving his running and the pacemaker being a 66/1 rag, I’d be a bit lukewarm about this form.

Tudhope kept things simple on Karl Burke’s Sweet Solera winner Fallen Angel, tracking the pacemaking Ylang Ylang before rallying strongly after being headed briefly by the runner-up Vespertillo, but the result was a ‘what might have been’ for Ballydoyle whose clearly off-colour Ylang Ylang had beaten Vespertillo comprehensively when the pair had last met in the Silver Flash.

Fallen Angel (left) wins the Moyglare
Fallen Angel (left) wins the Moyglare

Kyprios can take his revenge

The other Group Ones on the day were the Irish St Leger and the Flying Five. The Irish Leger was another race to attract just four runners after the defection of Emily Dickinson so theoretically leaving the door open for her returning stablemate Kyprios to make his first appearance for nearly a year a winning one, but a decent pace (Eldar Eldarov’s winning timefigure was 111) probably found him out and I wouldn’t be backing the winner to confirm the form should the pair clash again in the weeks ahead.

Moss Tucker took advantage of below-par runs from Highfield Princess, Art Power and Bradsell to land the Flying Five but a 110 timefigure reveals plenty about the level required to win it.

Nearly the same could be said about the Betfair Sprint Cup across at Haydock where Nunthorpe fifth Regional only had to post a 115 to make the most of Shaquille’s below-par showing.

In a race dominated by those drawn in double-figure stalls, and in which like the Flying Five several of the main protagonists didn’t turn up, it’s hard to believe that any of the first three had to improve much. A liking for the track is enough to explain Shouldvebeenaring’s performance given he finished second to Little Big Bear in the Sandy Lane earlier in the season, while Believing probably hadn’t been given enough credit for being produced wide and off the pace when winning the listed Flying Fillies’ Stakes at Pontefract last time.

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The other Group race on the card, the Best Odds On The Betfair Exchange Superior Mile Stakes, went to a one-time favourite of this column (though less so lately) Chindit, whose turn of foot from the rear in a 104 timefigure would have proved too much for the class-dropping Light Infantry even if the short-priced favourite had not been found all the trouble going on the rail.

Down at Kempton Bay Bridge looked as good as ever in the Unibet September Stakes, on form if not on the clock with the winning timefigure coming in at just 109, but no amount of spin can big up the Sirenia Stakes which produced a winning timefigure of just 80 with no upgrade to speak of, one-time fast-timer Asadna disappointing badly again.

How significant were the Arc trials in France?

Over in Paris there were three Arc trials, the Prix Foy, Prix Vermeille and Prix Niel.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t any tracking data returned for the Foy in which last year’s Prix de l’Opera winner Place du Carrousel narrowly got the better of this year’s Prix Ganay winner Iresine after getting first run in a race that developed into a dash for home. The winner looks set for the Arc by all accounts though I was more impressed by the runner-up on his first run since the Ganay but he’s not qualified for the Arc and will probably run in the Prix Royal-Oak instead.

Sectionals were published for the Prix Vermeille but all they revealed was that the first three home, Yorkshire Oaks winner Warm Heart, Prix de Pomone winner Melo Melo and Yorkshire Oaks fifth Sea Silk Road, ran an almost identical final 600 metres with Warm Heart best placed of the trio when the race began in earnest.

The Niel was potentially the most interesting trial given it saw the latest appearance of Feed The Flame who is among the market leaders for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The Grand Prix de Paris winner had a bizarre ‘pacemaker’ in the shape of Timeform 83-rated King Of Records but like most out-of-their-depth pacemakers he was ignored and the race ended up developing into a sprint from the home turn. Second last at that point, Feed The Flame came home fastest of all according to the tracking data only to find the German Derby winner Fantastic Moon too well placed. The result didn’t do Feed the Flame’s Arc chances any harm as I saw it, though I’d still be sweeter on the chances of Hukum and Westover.

UPSET in the Prix Niel! Arc hopeful Feed The Flame can't get to Fantastic Moon!

Dark horse to note in nurseries

Finally, a dark horse worth looking out for.

One winner this weekend I haven’t addressed is Native American who won the Sales race at the Curragh, meaning he’s now won his two races in timefigures of 94 and 99 respectively. It’s not him that interests me specifically but his stable-companion Salamanca Lad who was the only one to achieve similar finishing fractions to Native American on his debut at York when finishing well largely out of camera shot into fourth.

Now qualified for nurseries after two more runs over inadequate six furlongs, Richard Fahey’s youngster has just been handed a very ‘workable’, as they say, opening mark of 64 and he’s one to look out for when stepped up in trip in the coming weeks.

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