A FEW THOUGHTS ON RACE PACE, MOON RACER AND THE CHAMPION HURDLE

Been asked a few questions about timings and sectional analysis and thought I’d share an analogy that helped me grasp the effect of pace on a horse race and rating races where they have gone slowly and quickened at the end….which leads to a few thoughts on Moon Racer…and then the Champion Hurdle!

Imagine, for the sake of argument, I am racing Usain Bolt in a 100m sprint.  Although I am 32, I wouldn’t fancy my chances of getting much beyond halfway before Usain has crossed the line in just under 10s.  That would be an accurate reflection of his superiority over me in a 100m sprint.  Now let’s say when we next “clash” we walk the first 90m chatting about his gold medal exploits and then sprint the final 10m.  Sure, Usain would still win, but I would say I could get to maybe 6-7m by the time he crosses the line in our mini dash.  Anyone can go fully hell for leather for such a short distance and Usain wouldn’t be able to fully show how superior he is over such a short distance (I may be exaggerating my sprinting ability, but you get the idea!).

Now if we extrapolate the same theory to horses, imagine a race where horses of differing abilities crawl around for 90% of a race that then develops into a mini sprint finish…similar to mine and Usain’s over 10m.  A horse can run full speed over a short distance, almost regardless of ability and it takes some performance to show any sort of superiority.  An example of this was the recent Acapella Bourgeois race where they went so slowly for the first circuit, that the leader still had so much in reserve that the chasing pack couldn’t close on him.  Any horse could’ve been in the lead in that race and maintained the winning distance.

This leads me on to a horse that has caused us time geeks a lot of consternation this season….namely Moon Racer.  His last race at Cheltenham was run at such a crawl that they were 12s behind the winner of the Greatwood 3 out if their races had been run concurrently.  From there Moon Racer came home 3s quicker to the line.  There is no easy way to adjust Moon Racers rating into what he is off the back of that run; they just went too damn slow.  However, it is dangerous to let times dominate your analysis.  I gave him 125 but have developed a complicated way of accounting for this sort of run that makes me sure he is a 160+ horse.   And if we go back to the original example of Usain vs me, it is akin to how dominant Moon Racer was over his rivals that day, i.e. only an exceptional horse could’ve pulled clear the way the race was run.

With only two cracks of the whip, Moon Racer was able to bolt two lengths clear of the bunched pack.  Now remember what I said about any horse being able to run full power for a short distance after a slow pace… Mirsaale and Keep In Line were in that bunch with future Betfair Hurdle 1-2 Ballyandy and Movewiththetimes.  The fact that Moon Racer travelled so well, and with two cracks of the whip pulled clear of the chasing pack, shows just how superior he is compared to his rivals that day.  It is the equivalent of Usain putting a few metres between him and me over the 10m sprint after our 90m chit-chat.  Two lengths grossly underestimate just how far ahead Moon Racer is of the horses he beat that day…there just isn’t an easy way to massage the data to reflect it!

This is a horse whose only defeat has been to Blow By Blow in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown after a yearlong lay off.  That day he had future grade 1 winner Barcardys behind him in third, and the winner is undoubtedly a top class prospect.  He won a vintage renewal of the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham (Yanworth in behind) and the fact he pulled clear of the 1-2 in the most expensive handicap hurdle off a ludicrously slow pace IS impressive.

There is of course a caveat…now in his 8th year his next run will be only the 7th of his life.  Not a huge fan of the older horses don’t do well in the Supreme stat…this is based off a small sample and in fact there have been 7 and 8 year old winners previously.  If I were connections though, I’d go for the Champion Hurdle, it’s an open renewal and they may not get a better chance to win the race.  He won a top class renewal of the bumper off a similarly long layoff, and can win an average renewal of the Champion.

Leading on from this I thought I’d give a quick run through some of the ratings and thoughts I have on the Champion Hurdle protagonists.

BRAIN POWER (164) – an impressive winner of two handicap hurdles this season, with the clock backing up the visual impression he made.  Big concern that he ran poorly over C&D in the Greatwood though, and even in an average renewal he doesn’t strike me as the winner of this.

BUVEUR D’AIR (160+) – reverting back from fences, he cruised through his hurdle comeback to cosily beat a solid yardstick.  Third in a vintage Supreme last year, it is easy to see why connections wanted to have a go at this with Altior and Yorkhill in opposition in the novice chases.  Beaten horses in the supreme have come back the following year and won (Sublimity and Jezki) so he makes plenty of appeal.  Probably wants soft ground though and maybe a flatter track would be question marks at the price he is at this stage.

CH’TIBELLO (161) – placed behind Yanworth on his last two runs, I gave him a write up highlighting him being overpriced at 40s.  Interestingly he is now having a wind op, but is 50/50 to line up.  If he does and he recovers suitably and finds improvement he can cause a shock….but sounds like he waits for Punchestown, where he could cause that upset!

FOOTPAD (161) – ran on behind Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Champion, I can see him doing the same sort of thing in this race.  Probably wants further but can be in the first 5 or 6 here threatening most at the end.

JEZKI (155) – at his best he would be of massive interest but I can’t help thinking he isn’t the horse he was.  Won well enough on comeback but time was nothing to shout about that day, then hated the heavy ground behind Tombstone last time.  If finding his old form he could win but not for me.

MOON RACER (135+++) – as discussed his runs on the clock have been nothing of note this season but it was the fact he put clear distance between himself and the pack off a slow pace that impressed me.  His form is rock solid with Yanworth, Supasundae, Blow By Blow, Ballyandy and Movewiththeimes among the vanquished (that’s more than you can say for some in the field).  Chance he might not line up, but is capable of winning this in my eyes and at 8 years old surely it must be tempting to have a go.  To add to confidence he has raced three times on the old course and won all three.  Despite his times on the clock this season, he just hasn’t had the chance to show himself to be the 160+ (maybe even 170) horse I’m sure he is.

MY TENT OR YOURS (158) – gave him a rating of 167 in this last year, but unfortunately he seems to a horse on the decline now at 10.

NICHOLS CANYON (172) – ran a blistering time when winning on seasonal reappearance but has failed to spark in subsequent runs since.  Better on soft ground, and seems to have a preference for going right-handed it sounds like he isn’t going to run here.  If he did turn up and it was a bog he would be of major interest.

PETIT MOUCHOIR (166) – winner of two grade 1s on his last two starts he is on the face of it of obvious interest especially with the time backing up his performances.  However, his best form would look to be on flat tracks, and he was well down the field in the supreme last year so at the prices he doesn’t make too much appeal in my eyes.

SCEAU ROYAL (161) – will probably end up being the horse I rate the race through, as he seems to be a solid yardstick at this level, running to the same sort of level each time…which unfortunately is just below top class.

THE NEW ONE (166) – was very impressive in winning at Cheltenham in December, and seems to have found a new lease of life after suffering from kissing spines.  That win was on bad ground though and on the more stamina based new course, so there is a chance he wants further than this now, although at the prices he makes some appeal as an each way proposition.

WICKLOW BRAVE (?) – ran a huge number (168) in behind Nichols Canyon and Faugheen back in November 2015, before disappointing in the Fighting Fifth (think the run had taken it out of him that day).  Since then he has been campaigned on the flat and has won a Group 1 as well as running in the Melboure Cup.  Rated 115 on the flat he is an intriguing outsider at 33/1 as a former county hurdle winner.  In an open year, if he lines up he could cause a shock as he comes in well under the radar but could well be the classiest horse in the race.

YANWORTH (166) – three wins this season has seen him propelled to nearly favourite, and the clock backs this up.  Concerns for me are that in two runs over the old course he has been beaten, although in hot races, and this track is perhaps on the sharp side for him.  I would rate him bombproof to be in the first 3 and battling all the way to the line, but maybe finds one to good.

LIMINI (158) – needs to be supplemented but sounds like she will be, she was impressive when beating Apple’s Jade on her comeback and getting 7lbs in this race will put her amongst the protagonists.  However, there is a big question mark for me (kudos to Bernard Cullinane @JBCullinane for this) and that is the bounce factor.  She will reappear in this race just 20 days after her last run, and since joining Mullins her two defeats have come after 22 day breaks.  According to Bernard her sire is notorious for producing these types and this would be a concern for sure.

TOMBSTONE (158) – another that is apparently set to be supplemented, but seems a strange one.  Some of his novice hurdle performances would give him a chance in this but hard to see him featuring.

 

Conclusion – the most open renewal I can recall of this race, I wonder if this is ripe for something from left field to come and win.  If they elect to run him in a bizarre way MOON RACER would have fewer question marks than most.  He is unbeaten on the track and won the bumper off the long layoff he will have prior to this.  Petit Mouchoir and Buveur D’Air are perhaps better on flat tracks and time is catching up with Jezki, My Tent Or Yours and the New One.  Limini could bounce and Tombstone, Sceau Royal and Footpad would look short of what is required.  Brain Power has the rating to get involved, but his shocker in the Greatwood would worry me if taking a short enough price.  Of the ones at the head of the market Yanworth appeals as the most solid, but may get a bit outpaced.  How about with all the wild comings and goings, Mullins still has Wicklow Brave to run a stormer in the race?!

  1. Moon Racer
  2. Wicklow Brave
  3. Yanworth

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