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the sectional angle for Aintree today

Racing authorities in Britain don't make easy for punters who want to rely on facts such as accurate distances and sectional timing. If you want to do it, you have to do it the hard way, but it can certainly provide the rewards for doing the 'hard yards'. And it's not just for flat racing either. Sectional timing devotee Steve Lines, @sjlone1, takes a look at today's action at Aintree.

National Hunt Sectionals

Remember when you started jogging…….. and how you sprinted the last 20 yards to the front door. Yes you were exhausted…. but a sit down with a beer – the pain was still a couple of hours away. Gradually the sprint distance got farther and farther from the front door; mainly because you knew your own energy reserves - and if you misjudged it – you were nearly home. Never did you risk a faster pace at the start of the run with the possibility of having to walk later; or try and match speed with the old, grey haired, skinny guy in the micro shorts! You used your energy most efficiently.

Horses run their fastest times with the same profile – gradually increasing pace with a view to their energy finally being expended right on the line – jockey permitting! Sectional timing allows us to identify the horses who win despite not being able to use their energy optimally. If you want sectional times in Britain you have to record your own! Any of those journalists out there who squabbled over whether it was in the punters interest to know Kauto Star had a schooling fall want to campaign for something objective i.e. correct race distances, sectional timing on the AW, weighing horses – no…. more comfortable to make your case for why Frankel would beat Brigadier Gerard!

To record your own sectionals you need a constant reference point, difficult on the flat, but fences provide the static points required -hurdles are generally in the same area meeting to meeting. Add a stopwatch, spreadsheet, ability to replay races, a few formulas to compare different race distances and a going allowance and you end up with a mass of numbers which would have taxed Bletchley Park incumbents. I am that soldier! You then need a month in a sound proof room to make sense of the figures. I am not that soldier. These figures are still more meaningful than NH ‘final times’ which don’t differentiate between running and static starts and it’s taken on trust the stopwatch is started as they pass the starting tape!

Certain patterns have emerged. It takes a true Grade 1 horse to win 3 fast sectional races (FSR) in a row – horses managing this last year included Finian’s Rainbow and Sir Des Champs. This year’s qualifiers are unfortunately a bit higher profile: Sprinter Sacre, Flemenstar and Last Instalment. It is the act of winning which seems to determine their future performance, however their ease of victory; ‘putting the race to bed’ is tough whatever the visual impression. Lower class horses winning a FSR nearly all fail to follow up (what percentage is ‘nearly’ you say, if I could rectify a troublesome Excel formula I would tell you) – although it may be the handicapper is the culprit. Cheltenham saw 47 qualifiers who had run and won at least 2 FSR; this included Boston Bob, Grands Crus, Oscar Whisky, Binocular, Grumeti and Somersby (before you ask ….. Boston Bob was the only lay…). The competitive nature of the races saw 3 winners: Big Bucks, Sprinter Sacre and Sir Des Champs. The recent Fairyhouse meeting saw 5 qualifiers go to post – the only winner: Flemenstar. Going and days since the last run are all relevant but without that free month and a benefactor I have to use the figures as a guide rather than forming a system. I’ll try and relate some of my initial findings to the first day at Aintree.

2.00 Liverpool Hurdle
Why try and get Big Buck’s beat? He ran my fastest sectional time over the New Course last time and has now run 2 FSR in succession but the rules don’t apply to him.

2.30 Matalan 4-Y-O hurdle
Eight FSR qualifiers. Grumetti has won 2 so is passed over. Pearl Swan’s narrow victory over Grumetti (although subsequently disqualified) meant he had won 2 consecutive FSR so his Triumph run fitted my theory and is neglected again this time. Triumph runners have won 9 of the last 12 runnings so that provides a shortlist of Countrywide Flame, Dodging Bullets and Sadler’s Risk. There seems no obvious reason why Sadler’s Risk should reverse Triumph form – he also has no form left handed. Splitting between Dodging Bullets and Countrywide Flame is difficult – my angle would be back both each-way.

3.05 Betfred Bowl
Sectional figures fail to discard any runners. Although a race run at Cheltenham may not be fast run compared to other races at the Festival I suspect they are gruelling compared to races run elsewhere so Riverside Theatre may well have had a tough race but his previous effort at Ascot was slowly run compared with Invictus’ sections over 2f further. His class may allow him to overcome a mainly exposed bunch but with stamina also unproven I wouldn’t want to take 3/1 to find out. Carruthers and Nacarat will ensure this is a true test so backing Burton Port in running (he tends to get behind) with a view to laying will be my play.

3.40 John Smith’s Fox Hunters
No qualifiers.

4.15 Red Rum Chase
A typical 2m handicap which is often won by the horse getting the best ride! The sprint handicaps of NH. Nine qualifiers who’ve competed in FSR. Kid Cassidy, Kumbeshwar and Astracad have already won2 so are discarded. Tanks for That last 5 runs have been in FSR or fast final time races; I’m betting he’s had enough. Takeroc is 0-8 in class A races- you’re fired. Song Sung Blue – a winner over 3m2f on heavy and 2m on good… but no obvious reason to back him. Tara Royal 0-6 above class C level and is likely to be involved in a pace dual up front. Free World is exposed and 0-16 above class C. Echo Bob, exposed pace setter, nothing to give him a chance to win this. De Boitron is likely to be suited by the pace profile under newly retained jockey James Reveley. Silk Drum is now 5 pounds lower than when winning this last year – coming back to form he could be involved again. Edgardo Sol is a progressive French import; a course winner he has a lot going for him if he can handle the competitive nature of this tough handicap. Oiseau de Nuit, a tough handicapper who was unlucky in this race last year. Although not improving he has the toughness and experience to handle this test.

A short list of 4 but my play will be to lay the field at evens. If we get 2 horses trading below even money, we profit.

4.50 Betfred Manifesto Chase
An easy race for this speed rating user to produce a selection. Menorah and Alasi have already won 2 FSR. Cristal Bonus and Pepite Rose have yet to produce speed ratings showing they can win at this level. This leaves Al Ferof; already proven at this level his price reflects his chance, although Paul Nicholls wouldn’t have entered Cristal Bonus if he didn’t believe he would be competitive. This invariably means Cristal Bonus is capable of producing good figures. Objectively, Al Ferof seems a good thing; subjectively he never travelled with any fluency at Ascot or Cheltenham.

I’ll be placing an order for 2.75 – if it’s not matched I’ll let him run unbacked.

5.25 Silver Cross Hurdle
Sectional figures are of little use with 14 qualifiers. Using a combination of statistics for the race i.e. less than 10yo, under 11-1 plus horse statistics of winning in large fields in class C or above with a speed rating for the class gives 2 qualifiers – Veiled and Volador.

My play…wait for tomorrow!

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