Timeform's Champions Day Sectional Preview
Timeform's Simon Rowlands previews the six races from Ascot on Saturday from a sectional timing point of view.
"Both her thrashing of Brando in Ireland and her defeat of Limato in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York have her as a near-130 performer on sectionals."
The QIPCO-backed British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday is synonymous with enterprise and excellence, so it has to be wondered why the organisers of the occasion have made no provision for even the most basic form of sectional timing.
Ascot has proved a tricky course at which to implement sophisticated sectional timing previously, but there is more than one way in which to skin this particular cat. In the absence of state-of-the-art sectionals, this might have been a good opportunity to showcase break-beam times for the leaders, a feature with which the event's international audience would have been both familiar and comfortable.
As it is, Timeform will seek to fill the void by providing unique one-off sectionals after the event for all the runners in its industry-leading Sectional Archive.
Even then, though, there is no guarantee that this will be possible, for it depends on the quality and suitability of television pictures. It is usually somewhere between difficult and impossible to establish reliable sectional markers on Ascot's straight track, over which three of the six races on Saturday will be run.
Sectional timing can shed considerable light on how and why races have panned out as they have, such as with the intriguing comparison between the Cheveley Park Stakes and Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket recently, which were run in similar overall times but in markedly contrasting styles. And it can identify stars of the future, as well as of the now, as it did with Frankel as a two-year-old at this course in 2010.
You might think some form of sectional timing would long have been regarded as indispensable in British racing - especially at the sport's flagship event - I could not possibly comment.
Sectionals are particularly useful in establishing the significance of what has already happened, but it follows that they have plenty of utility in predicting what may happen also. The following preview of Saturday's blockbusting card will attempt to tease out some of the meaningful factors which sectionals can provide.
Long Distance Cup
There are no prizes for guessing that Order of St George comes out easily best on sectionals in the opening Long Distance Cup. His third in a very fast Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly last time which is several lengths in advance of anything his rivals can boast. In a true race, and on his best form, he should win this, no problem.
However, neither of those prerequisites is a given, and the Order of St George who looked awkward under pressure and got turned over by Wicklow Brave in the Irish St Leger at the Curragh on his penultimate start would be vulnerable.
The one-two from the Doncaster Cup, Sheikhzayedroad and Quest For More, become valid contenders if that is so - with the latter having backed up that effort with a similarly meritorious win in the Prix du Cadran at Chantilly since - in a race which lends itself to some each-way action.
Nonetheless, this is a race it may be worth sitting out from a betting point of view.
Comfortably the best horse in the Sprint can be backed at double-figure odds even after the defection of ante-post favourite, Limato. Mecca's Angel would be a much shorter price if this was at 5f rather than 6f.
However, there is no recent evidence that Mecca's Angel does not stay 6f, other than that she is searingly fast at the minimum trip. Both her thrashing of Brando in Ireland and her defeat of Limato in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York have her as a near-130 performer on sectionals. She will surely be ridden a lot less aggressively than she was when only third in the Abbaye at Chantilly last time.
Sectionals speak favourably of Quiet Reflection and Librisa Breeze (who showed a sprinter's speed in running his last furlong in about 12.0s here last time), if less so of Shalaa and The Tin Man. The last-named closed late on in the Sprint Cup at Haydock but the leaders had done plenty before then.
Fillies And Mares
I put up Zhukova for this race elsewhere ante-post and am not about to desert her, for all that her odds have plummeted. Seventh Heaven is arguably just about her superior, but Seventh Heaven seems a more one-dimensional performer, in need of a strong pace to show her best at a mile and a half.
It took Seventh Heaven most of the trip to look high-class in the Irish Oaks at the Curragh and the Yorkshire Oaks at York on her last two starts, though high-class her victories in those two races ultimately appeared. Zhukova ran a better timefigure when storming away with a Group 3 at Naas in May and showed tactical speed in defeating US Army Ranger after a break at Leopardstown last time.
Speedy Boarding is classy, but got the run of things (as sectionals show) when winning in France last time, while Queen's Trust looked at least Seventh Heaven's equal for much of the way at York (had run Minding fairly close before that) and seems somewhat over-priced.
The top of the miling division has been a profitable battleground for followers of sectionals this year.
Firstly, The Gurkha was identified as superior to Galileo Gold at Royal Ascot, then Ribchester was identified as fractionally superior to both when The Gurkha exacted his revenge on Galileo Gold at Goodwood. Ribchester duly went on to win the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville (with Galileo Gold only eighth).
Awtaad could be considered much the same horse as Galileo Gold on a couple of his better runs, and the presence of the fillies Minding (in particular) and Jet Setting enhances this contest significantly, too.
There are plenty of good horses on show, but probably no great ones, and the impression is that nothing should be especially short in the betting (given that Minding has to cope with the return to a mile).
Lightning Spear was beaten on his first three starts this year, but was twice given too much to do (he was quickest of all late on when third in the Queen Anne Stakes over this course and distance in June), and got it all together when winning well at Goodwood last time. He looks worth a stab at a double-figure price in the belief that he will get the strong pace to run at which suits him.
The Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown was run at a strong pace, and those who challenged wide and late might have benefited. But, whichever way you look at it, the race represents hot form, and it would be no surprise to see a virtual repeat in the British equivalent on Saturday.
Almanzor beat Found on merit that day - running a swift last 2f of 24.14s for good measure - and Found has franked that by winning the Arc since. The former is undoubtedly the one to beat.
Fascinating Rock ran a 125 timefigure when winning this 12 months ago, and My Dream Boat (fifth in Ireland) and The Grey Gatsby both have a turn of foot if this becomes tactical: they may not be quite the no-hopers their odds imply.
This race looks best passed on from a betting point of view, but as a spectacle it promises to be unmissable.
The declaration of 23 closely-matched runners for the Balmoral Handicap does not give punters an easy "get-out stakes" if things have not gone well earlier. Firmament and Third Time Lucky rate quite well on sectionals, but I am going to give the John Gosden-trained Remarkable one last chance with my sectional hat on.
The gelding may be tricky, and is not sure to stay this stiff mile, but the sectional he ran when making up several lengths on all-the-way winner Log Out Island at Newbury in May shows there is Group-class ability there. He gets to run off 103 here and looks worth chancing.
Recommendations: MECCA'S ANGEL (win); ZHUKOVA (win) and QUEEN'S TRUST (e/w); LIGHTNING SPEAR (win); REMARKABLE (win)