As a wise man once observed, “the times they are a-changing”. Where once the speed shown by a horse within a race was something to be guessed at, now it is often a matter of fact, over which analysts can pore should they choose.
Total Performance Data has led the way in Britain in recent years, with by-furlong sectionals for individual horses at an increasing number of tracks, extensive details of which may be found in the Results Section of this site.
Other bodies, and other courses, are showing an increased interest, some prompted by the BHA’s recent indication of its support for sectional timing more widely. Meanwhile, Ascot racecourse has quietly been getting on with the task of developing and deploying a Longines-backed system based on GPS technology.
Not many of Ascot’s sectionals have been made public, other than live and on-screen for those at the course, but they shared with me some figures from their Royal Ascot Trials Day on Wednesday, when the understanding of many of the performances would benefit from precisely this kind of additional depth.
Perhaps most interesting of all was the performance of CALYX in winning the Merriebelle Stable Commonwealth Cup Trial. Visuals scream of how mightily impressive the unbeaten colt was, but can this be captured in numbers?
First, however, a word on Calyx’s overall time for the straight 6f. There was, apparently, a malfunction of the official timing mechanism, meaning that some sources quoted a hand time. Hand times are usually about 0.3s too fast, due to the slowness of human reactions.
It is easy enough to validate all the overall times on the card from video analysis, a process which shows that Calyx ran 1m 12.55s, give or take a few hundredths of a second. Matching that with Ascot’s late sectionals gives the following horse-by-horse breakdown.
That 11.17s penultimate furlong from Calyx tore the field apart, and was between 0.27s (nearly 2 lengths) and 0.51s (approaching 4 lengths) faster than any other runner managed at that stage. He continued to pour it on in the final furlong, winning by a long 4 lengths, despite being eased near the line.
Those finishing speed %s are the individual horses’ speed in the last quarter of a mile expressed as a % of their average speed for the race overall. Figures of 100% or more are faster-than-par for this course and distance and mean that an already smart time for Calyx gets upgraded to a genuinely high-class figure.
Calyx is as short as 7/4 for the Commonwealth Cup itself, on 21 June, and that looks justified. His sectional rating of 122 would have won him the 2016 and 2018 editions (but not the 2015 and 2017 ones won by Muhaarar and Caravaggio).
Calyx is more than a little reminiscent of his sire, Kingman, who won races at a mile with a blistering turn of foot but who came unstuck in the only such contest that was strongly-run and therefore a proper test (the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket).
By way of comparison, Kingman completed his last two furlongs in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Ascot – the only time he ran at the course – in 10.90s then 11.07s according to video analysis on admittedly firmer ground but at the end of 8f rather than 6f.
Kingman was a fast strider and peaked at 2.50 strides/second in that remarkably quick penultimate furlong. Calyx has consistently peaked at either 2.47 or 2.48 (including this week), which is very similar.
Connections chose to swerve the 2000 Guineas with Calyx, and look to have been right. He may end up trying a mile, like his sire, and may even get away with it in a steadily-run race on top-of-the-ground. But speed is his forte, and speed was evident in abundance on Wednesday.
That is what the visuals said, and that is what the sectionals confirmed.