Cheltenham - At The Races

Sectional Spotlight - Tuesday

    Sectional timing expert Simon Rowlands reviews the pick of the action on day one of the Cheltenham Festival with a one-on-one comparison of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle.

WAS THE SUPREME “SUPREME”, OR CHAMPION HURDLE “CHAMPION” IN NAME ONLY?

There seemed little point in writing about the nuances of all-weather sectionals in a week like this, for there is only one game in town: the Cheltenham Festival. 

Instead, these ATR Sectional Spotlights will shed some light on the times and sectionals that are taking place at Prestbury Park on a daily basis. Contrary to what some may try to tell you, time matters over jumps as well as on the flat: one horse still runs quicker or slower than another, which can be measured by time, and the best way to ensure the former happens is to run more efficiently than your rivals.

Time analysis suggests the surface on the opening day of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival was more “soft” than “heavy”, though what looks a phenomenally fast winning time by Footpad in the Arkle Chase accentuated that slightly.

I intend analysing that Arkle performance – in which Footpad won by 14 lengths following a cutthroat early pace – after Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase has been run. It will take quite something from the seniors to top what Footpad did on the clock.

The most interesting one-on-one comparison on the opening day of the Festival invariably is that between the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle. In some years, the former manages to be quicker than the latter, but that was not the case this time round.

Nonetheless, the novice winner Summerville Boy got to within 0.4s – or about two lengths – of the dual Champion Hurdler, which is quite a bit closer than might be expected. This is how the two horse’s cumulative times at each obstacle compare, with the “lengths ahead/behind” applying to Buveur d’Air.

Cumulative Times, Cheltenham 13/Mar/2018

SUMMERVILLE
BOY
FlightBUVEUR
D'AIR
Lengths
Ahd/Bhd
7.6s 1 7.2s 2
51.8s 2 53.0s -6
99.4s 3 99.5s -0.5
123.9s 4 124.4s -2.5
145.1s 5 146.3s -6
184.6s 3 out 184.4s 1
202.8s 2 out 202.8s 0
230.4s last 229.7s 3.5
245.7s line 245.3s 2


The Supreme was run at a stronger gallop than the Champion – with the leader in the former 1.0s (about 5 lengths) ahead of the leader in the latter at halfway – but both winners were held up to a degree, and there was no more than a few lengths between them for most of the way in terms of sectionals.

Summerville Boy and Buveur d’Air were bang level, on the clock, two out, where the former blundered. But the younger horse actually managed to claw back some of that deficit – and more importantly overhaul Kalashnikov in the real world! – thereafter.

So, is this year’s Supreme indeed “supreme”, or is this year’s Champion Hurdle “champion” in name only? The answer is probably a bit of both, with a bit more of the latter than the former.

About eight lengths covered the first seven home in the novices’ race, and, however good you make Summerville Boy on that overall time, you have to rate others quite close behind him. But it looks strong form, despite the demise of the short-priced Getabird, and connections of the principals are entitled to fancy their chances in good open company next season.

The Champion Hurdle, on the other hand, looks a little substandard. Fourth-placed Identity Thief had been beaten when getting weight from the mare Forge Meadow in a Grade 3 on his most recent start, and neither runner-up Melon nor third-placed Mick Jazz had looked top drawer previously.

Buveur d’Air had to fight hard to prevail, and deserves a lot of credit for that. But the stopwatch suggests he was there for the taking on the day. As it happens, none of his rivals could quite do that.