Simon Rowlands returns with a special edition of his Sectional Debriefs as he analyses the times from a selection of races at Epsom's Derby meeting...
"Was Talent flattered? That would probably be over-stating it. But the early pace was so severe that it must have punished those closer to it more..."
"The Greatest Race In The World" and "The Greatest Test A Thoroughbred Can Face". Both are terms used to describe The Derby at Epsom, and both have some credibility despite the rise of more valuable contests around the globe over the years. Traditionalists and neophytes alike are captivated by the race still.
It is remarkable - embarrassing, even - that there is no official record of how a Derby unfolds in terms of times, then. There is a final time, to compare with final times across the ages, but no official sectionals to help the enthusiast understand why things happened as they did.
Hand-held sectionals have always been easy to take at the course, due to the presence of paths crossing it, allowing accurate times to be taken at fixed landmarks. In particular, the path at the entrance to the home straight has taken on almost mystical significance among followers of sectionals.
Hand-held sectionals tell you plenty about what went on in this year's Derby and in many of the races at this year's Derby meeting. You just won't find them in the history books in years to come. Rather than attempting to convert the times into sectional ratings, as these Sectional Debriefs customarily do, many of the headline facts can be allowed to speak for themselves.
The paths used are at the top of the hill, after just more than 4f ("1st path"), and the aforementioned path at the entrance to the straight, around 3.5f from the finish ("2nd path"). The inclusion of figures from the previous three Derbys is intended as some sort of a benchmark: all three races were truly-run, albeit on firmer going than prevailed this year, and resulted in times commensurate with the winners' apparent abilities.
The most obvious thing that can be seen is that the opening stages of The Oaks were run at a remarkably fast pace, especially considering the soft/good-to-soft going. The runners spent less than 36% of their overall race time in this section, when around 38.2% would be "par". It should be no surprise that the winner of the race, Talent, was well back at this stage. But she was still running faster than might be expected.
The pace in The Oaks steadied mid-race but the finish was still on the slow side given the overall time, with Talent coming from eighth of 11 at the second path and running roughly 41.9 sec, the slowest for a winner of the race since Kazzia in 2002 according to my records.
Was Talent flattered? That would probably be over-stating it. But the early pace was so severe that it must have punished those closer to it more. The runner-up Secret Gesture sat in fourth and went for home halfway up the straight. She probably has a good chance of reversing placings another day.
The Derby itself was not such an extreme scenario, but it resulted in a fast finish given the overall race time. The early pace was respectable (that did not stop the favourite Dawn Approach pulling himself into oblivion) then steadied. They broke 40 sec for the closing sectional, which is not especially fast for a Derby (Galileo posted around 38.0 sec when winning in 2001) but is fast for a Derby run on slower-than-normal ground. The principals finished in a heap and Libertarian and Mars, in addition to the winner, seemed to do better than the result.
St Nicholas Abbey had finished even faster in winning The Coronation Cup earlier on the card, but it can be seen that the opening stages of that race were particularly undemanding. St Nicholas Abbey, a multiple Group 1 winner capable of running to at least 127 on Timeform ratings, reached the top of the hill more than 5 sec slower than the leader in The Oaks (on softer going) the previous day!
Interestingly, the 12f handicap later on the Derby card saw the leader, Colinca's Lad, go off faster than ideal but get such a break on his rivals that he was run down only late on and finished third. The winner, Sheikhzayedroad, came from plum last and ran remarkably close, in % terms, to recent winners of The Derby itself. Jockey Martin Lane deserves plenty of credit for a well-judged ride.
So, we had an Oaks run at an overly-strong pace early, a Derby which ended with something of a sprint for home and a Coronation Cup which only got going after a third of the race had been run. All of these highly pertinent points won't be on the official record.
And that is merely scratching the surface of what could be gleaned from sectionals over the last couple of days.