In my latest Countdown to Cheltenham 2017 blog, I take a look at one of the weekends big talking points, the facile victory of Acapella Bourgeois at Navan, who jumped out in front, and built up a huge lead, which the rest of the field never looked like reeling back in. Comments on twitter after the race ranged from all the other jockeys should be banned, to they did nothing wrong, and Acapella was a Gold Cup horse. I use fence by fence sectional times for the first three home, as well as from the earlier novice chase over a shorter trip to try to make some sense of what exactly happened. If you want my best bets for each day of the 2017 festival you need to subscribe to my Cheltenham 2017 Email List. Over the four years since this site was launched my Cheltenham Tips have posted a profit of +274 Points, for a remarkable ROI of +61%.


 Distance to Leader in SecondsLast 1st Circuit6th Last2nd LastLast FenceFinish
Road to Respect5.88.515.786.387.16

I took fence by fence sectionals, but it would be a bit messy to display all of them here, so I’ve sorted through them for the relevant points. The above table shows how far the eventual second and third were behind the winner at different points. The furthest Road To Respect was behind was at the 6th last fence, when he was 8.51 seconds down on the leader. He closed that gap to 5.78 seconds at the 2nd last, before a combination of that effort telling, and him being eased a good bit on run in, meaning Acapella Bourgeois went further away from that point to the line. On it’s own this tells us little, what we need to know is what effort Acapella Bourgeois needed to expend, to get that huge lead in the first place.


 Sectional Time8th last to last 1st lap8th last to last 2nd lap
Acapella Bourgeois155.12144.26
Road To Respect159.04143.42

In the section that Acapella Bourgeois built up the majority of his lead, from the first fence of the race, which is the 8th last, to the last fence on the first circuit, he was a massive 10.86 seconds quicker. If you use 4 lengths per second on soft ground, that’s over 43l quicker on the second circuit. Road To Respect was a huge 62l quicker on the second circuit. That shows us beyond any doubt that the first circuit, and when most of the lead was accumulated, was run at a crawl by the leader, and the horses in behind were given no chance by their jockeys, as Acapella was miles in front of them with almost no energy cost.


Sectional Time3rd last to last (1st lap)Last (1st lap) to 8th last8th last to 6th last6th last to lineTotal
Acapella Bourgeois40.7667.2524.89131.72264.62
Road To Respect41.3868.6726.18130.37266.6
Ball D’arc39.2963.6624.18130.77258.18

Acapella Bourgeois did gain more ground on his rivals between the last fence on the first circuit and the 6th last, and while we don’t have comparable sectionals from a previous lap we do have times from the other novice chase on the card won by Ball D’arc. It was over a seven furlong shorter trip, so the first fence he jumped was the 3rd last with a lap to go. You will note that from the last on the first lap, to the 8th last, that we have already used for lap on lap comparisons, that Ball D’arc ran 3.31 seconds quicker than Acapella, yet that one still gained a further 1.42 seconds on Road To Respect, despite clearly not going quick. It was similar from 8 to 6 out, with Ball D’arc, who was over a shorter trip, but had still gone much faster to that point, still gaining 0.71 on Acapella, which suggests that one still hadn’t picked up the pace much. Despite this he still gained another 1.29 on Road To Respect in this section.

The times then suggest that Acapella picked the tempo up from the sixth last, as from this point onwards his times more closely resembled those of Ball D’arc, but Road To Respect actually ran quicker than both of them from this point to the line. So what does all of this tell us? Well it’s clear that Acapella Bourgeois got a huge lead by doing little more than a hack canter. The pace doesn’t seem to have picked up until around the sixth last, and by this stage even  a hundred rated horse would have been impossible to catch, given he had used practically no excess energy to get the lead, and would have had nearly a full tank of petrol left. As such the jockeys on the placed horses gave their mounts almost no chance of winning the race.

Thus it was surprising when the stewards didn’t even hold an inquiry, with stewards secretary Hugh Hynes quoted as saying “We didn’t feel any need to call an inquiry. We felt that the winner jumped and stayed, that the remaining runners could make no headway on him at all, and that a lot of them were at it from a mile out. The winner just went further clear and we didn’t feel that any riding offence was committed.”

It should be irrelevant if they might have won ridden closer to the pace or not, the point is they turned whatever probability they had before the race, into something akin to zero by letting a horse go so far in front while using up minimal gas. They didn’t give their horses every chance as they are required to do, in fact they gave them almost no chance by letting the leader go clear like they did. On balance I think the winner would have won anyway, as however small, he would have used some excess energy to get his huge lead over the eventual second at the sixth last, and while the second was eventually asked to close, the winner did it all on the bridle, but the second did run 1.35 seconds quicker than him from six out, and it is by no means certain he wouldn’t have given the winner a real race,  if they hadn’t gifted him such a lead. That the stewards deemed the rides on the beaten horses as fine, shows how utterly clueless they are in the first place, but also shows the benefits of live sectional timing information being available, as even race readers as bad as they seem to be, couldn’t but come to a different conclusion, had they had the relevant data at the time.

As for what Acapella Bourgeois performance means regarding Cheltenham, well I think you’ll have gathered by now that Gold Cup talk was a tad hysterical. I’m not saying he’s not a future Gold Cup horse, just that you wouldn’t want to be making that assumption based on yesterday’s performance. He clearly jumps fences well so is likely to make a decent chaser, but if yesterday told you anything else about his ability other than he would likely have still won given a proper pace, than you’re just reading too much into nothing. The fact Ball D’arc ran 6.44 seconds quicker than him from the first fence in his race to the line, adds another degree of perspective, as if Acappella Bourgeois was really the next coming, then you would have expected him to run a lot quicker than that relative to Ball D’arc, as it’s not as if he had done anything more than stretched his legs up to the point of the start of the shorter race. Yesterday told us not how good he is, but how bad he isn’t.

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