When Frankel won the 2,000 Guineas, his split-times for each successive quarter-mile were :25, :22, :24 and :26.3. How do I know this? I measured them myself, using a special video which takes some of the guesswork out of estimating the position of furlong-markers.
Of course, I shouldn’t have to do this: the information should be provided officially. It is 2011, for goodness sake.
After the Guineas, I was asked by many people if I knew Frankel’s sectionals. This surprised me: sectionals had been perceived as interesting only to geeks, but suddenly the Guineas gave them mass appeal. Frankel’s outlandish performance from the front begged the question of how fast he had gone. Had the others laid back too much? How much did the winner tire inside the final furlong?
When Frankel lines up for the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, he will be virtually unopposed in the betting. But I guarantee you many racing professionals will be watching him with a degree of suspicion.
“Sectionals had been perceived as interesting only to geeks, but suddenly the Guineas gave them mass appeal”
I have kept hearing the same idea: Frankel ran off with his jockey Tom Queally at Newmarket and, once a horse takes charge, the tendency is ingrained. There are several trainers who have told me they have had horses like this who never progress.
So, did Frankel jump or was he pushed? We will find out more about his tractability at Ascot, but the way he ran in the Guineas was at least some function of the plan his trainer Henry Cecil conceived and Queally tried to execute – a shade too aggressively, perhaps.
Frankel’s Guineas sectionals describe deceleration. (His first quarter-mile of :25 is slowed because of a standing-start.) When you take into account that they were achieved into a stiff wind, his first six furlongs were the equivalent of 1:09 – the clocking of a good sprinter but not a world champion.
Frankel would not be in the same league as the great Australian filly Black Caviar over six furlongs. She can run 1:07 for fun. I don’t think Frankel’s 2,000 Guineas performance proved he could win the July Cup; I don’t think he is a specialist sprinter at all.
Instead, the sectionals describe to me a top-class horse who merely ran aggressively over a mile. The visual impression Frankel created was not down to him being a runaway, but instead the relativity created by overmatched rivals. We are just not used to watching the best horse in the Guineas ridden like that, as more conservative tactics are the norm in turf racing.
But here’s the thing which is really frustrating: if the St James’s Palace were run in many other countries, the viewer could see his split-times on the screen at Ascot and ally them to the visual impression of his rider’s efforts to conserve his energy. Can you imagine how much more exciting and interesting the race would be to watch – even in such an apparently one-sided contest?
Nowadays, the racing fan of cosmopolitan taste can watch live racing on the television and internet from all the major countries. Personally, I have learned so much by watching the big meetings in Australia over the last year.
As a result, it becomes evident that racing fans in these countries have benefited from better technical information to learn all manner of deeper truths: how the pace a horse runs at affects its overall time; how the extra ground covered on bends affects a horse’s speed; how workouts affect typical first-quarter clockings; even how a horse’s stride-length correlates to the ability it shows.
British racing is the most colourful and historic in the world. It is sad that it is still a third-world nation in the provision of technical information.
Training methods the key to Australian Ascot success
It is fantastic to see Royal Ascot has received entries from 11 countries. Its increasing internationalisation is fundamental to its growth, as well as providing the chance to see horsemen from all round the world at work.
It is sad Black Caviar will not be among the raiders, but Australian trainers still have two horses in the Group 1 sprints – notably Star Witness, a Grade 1 winner who got within four lengths of Black Caviar last November.
Australian-trained horses have won the King’s Stand and Golden Jubilee five times. Why? One theory is that we don’t try to breed great sprinters any more, unlike the post-war era in which Abernant was champion sire. But I’m yet to be convinced by the heritability of supreme sprinting ability, especially after learning how Australian sprinters are trained. If you remember the row sparked by Takeover Target’s participation at Royal Ascot in 2008, you might think I am about to claim it is all down to illicit medication.
I don’t know about that, but I have learned about the effect of naturally occurring chemicals and their monitoring – lactates. Longstanding research at the University of Sydney suggests that “blood and plasma lactate concentrations two and five minutes after exercise [are] all significantly correlated with Timeform rating”.
In other words, lactates provide a biochemical marker of expressible ability. Though this is nothing new to scientists, it is exciting that they have also postulated that the careful manipulation of lactate levels could lead to significant improvement in racehorses.
Guess one major difference between the Australian approach to training and that prevalent in Europe? While trainers in Britain and Ireland are just waking up to the full implications of lactates and still using them sparingly for treadmill tests, Australian trainers tell me that many of their best horses have lactates measured routinely at the end of every gallop.