When Big Bucks made his comeback at Cheltenham in January, his 18 run unbeaten record came to an end. The ride he got raised plenty of debate however. Having sat up with what looked a fair pace form the off, his new jockey Sam Twiston-Davies let him stride on from the 4th last. Having been a few lengths clear coming down the hill, he was still 3l up on the run to the last, but seemed to falter soon after, and got collared just after the last. He finished 3rd, beaten just under 1l, and not surprisingly there was many who thought a slightly more reserved ride, would have seen him prove victorious. The ‘Poor Ride’ view was doing the rounds on twitter, but the RUK pundits covering the race dismissed that idea out of hand. My opinion having watched the race twice was that Sam had done too much to soon, and finished tired, and had he not kicked on when he did, he would have won. Therefore I thought the ‘poor ride’ theory had legs, and disagreed with the total dismissal of it.

I decided to take some sectional times from the four hurdle races run that day, pretty confident I’d find some evidence to back my theory up, and thus make the dismissal of it, look very  ill informed indeed. With the races been run over different trips, I took the times from the last hurdle with a circuit to go for all the races. The purpose is to discover if Sam kicked for home too soon, and finished tired, thus running the last lap very unevenly. I don’t need the first mile of the race to prove that. Indeed the winner was ahead of Big Bucks at the point the sectionals start  I recorded times for the placed horses, plus Big Bucks in the 4 hurdle races. Below is the table.

RaceNameDistance6th last5th last4th last3rd last2nd lastlastlineTotal
12:40Le Rocher2 mile 1 fur00:40.2000:22.4200:12.1800:29.5800:45.3500:42.0000:21.8303:33.56
12:40Kentucky Hyden2 mile 1 fur00:40.5800:22.2400:12.0600:29.6700:45.1700:42.1700:23.9603:35.85
15:00Red Sherlock2 mile 4 1/2 fur00:41.9400:21.6500:11.5800:27.3800:45.0700:43.3900:23.6303:34.64
15:00Rathvinden2 mile 4 1/2 fur00:41.9800:22.0500:11.1200:27.4700:44.9500:43.4900:24.1403:35.20
15:35Knockara Beau3 miles00:41.8600:22.2100:12.5200:30.3600:46.6500:44.1500:22.8603:40.61
15:35At Fishers Cross3 miles00:41.0200:22.4100:12.3600:29.5200:46.6500:44.2400:22.7903:38.99
15:35Big Bucks3 miles00:41.7300:22.2300:12.2400:29.3200:47.1400:44.7200:23.1803:40.56
16:40Lac Fontana2 mile 1 fur00:40.7200:22.5600:12.1000:28.7900:45.7700:44.3700:20.8403:35.15
16:40Totalize2 mile 1 fur00:40.9700:22.2100:12.1000:28.9400:45.7500:44.2000:22.0003:36.17
16:40Amore Alato2 mile 1 fur00:40.7700:22.5100:12.2000:28.7900:45.6700:44.7300:23.2003:37.87
Total Time All Races06:51.7703:42.4902:00.4604:49.8207:38.1707:17.4603:48.4336:08.60
Optimal % in each section18.99%10.26%5.55%13.36%21.13%20.17%10.53%100.00%


The time above show each horses sectional from hurdle to hurdle,and from the last to the line. So the time listed under 2nd last, would be the time it took each horse to get from the 3rd, to the 2nd last. The Line time is from the last to the line, and so on. If you read my article on Sectional Times you would know to make use of them, we need to know the optimal percentage of a horses total time, that they should spend in each section, in order to record the fastest time they’re capable of. Ideally we would use a sample of races in which horses won or were placed, and recorded  a speed figure in line with their form figure. This would tell us the horses must have raced near optimal to record a good time. Over jumps this is much harder with regular, undocumented rail movements. So what I have done above is totaled the time it took all the placed horses to complete each section, and then divided by the total it took all runners to complete the whole section. It’s not perfect but it’s still data from 4 races, and the pace conclusions you draw from it, are far more robust than what the naked eye can tell about one race in isolation. As you can see in the table, the section when Big Bucks made his move to go from just ahead of Knockara Beau, to 6l ahead of him, was from the 4th to the 3rd last. Big Bucks covered that section in 29.32, where as it took Knockara Beau 30.36 seconds. 1 second is around 5l over jumps. I presumed he had done to much in that section and then paid for it late. To see is this true I used the optimal percentage to ascertain the optimal time a horse should have spend in each sectional. The results are in the table below.

RaceName6th last5th last4th last3rd last2nd lastlastline
12:40Le Rocher00:40.5500:21.9100:11.8600:28.5400:45.1200:43.0800:22.50
12:40Kentucky Hyden00:40.9900:22.1500:11.9900:28.8500:45.6000:43.5400:22.74
15:00Red Sherlock00:40.7600:22.0200:11.9200:28.6900:45.3500:43.3000:22.61
15:35Knockara Beau00:41.8900:22.6300:12.2500:29.4800:46.6100:44.5000:23.24
15:35At Fishers Cross00:41.5800:22.4700:12.1600:29.2700:46.2700:44.1800:23.07
15:35Big Bucks00:41.8800:22.6300:12.2500:29.4800:46.6000:44.4900:23.23
16:40Lac Fontana00:40.8500:22.0700:11.9500:28.7500:45.4600:43.4000:22.66
16:40Amore Alato00:41.3700:22.3500:12.1000:29.1200:46.0300:43.9500:22.95


As you can see using our optimal chart, given Big Bucks total time from the last on the first circuit, to the finishing line, he should have spend about 29.48 seconds in the section from the 4th to the 3rd last, to use his energy optimally. He actually took just 29.32. Just 0.16, or less than 1l difference. It seems I might have been wrong about how much gas he used in the section. To make it easier to view, the table below shows the difference between the time each horse recorded in each section, compared to how long they should have spend there. I’ve highlighted in red, when the horse went faster than optimal, and the black highlights slower.

RaceName6th last5th last4th last3rd last2nd lastlastlineTotal
12:40Le Rocher00:00.3500:00.5100:00.3200:01.0400:00.2300:01.0800:00.6700:04.19
12:40Kentucky Hyden00:00.4100:00.0900:00.0700:00.8200:00.4300:01.3700:01.2200:04.42
15:00Red Sherlock00:01.1800:00.3700:00.3400:01.3100:00.2800:00.0900:01.0200:04.59
15:35Konockara Beau00:00.0300:00.4200:00.2700:00.8800:00.0400:00.3500:00.3800:02.37
15:35At Fishers Cross00:00.5600:00.0600:00.2000:00.2500:00.3800:00.0600:00.2800:01.79
15:35Big Bucks00:00.1500:00.4000:00.0100:00.1600:00.5400:00.2300:00.0500:01.54
16:40Lac Fontana00:00.1300:00.4900:00.1500:00.0400:00.3100:00.9700:01.8200:03.91
16:40Amore Alato00:00.6000:00.1600:00.1000:00.3300:00.3600:00.7800:00.2500:02.57


As you can see the most Big Bucks varied from optimal was from the 6th to the 5th last, when he went 0.4 sec, or 2l faster, but then Knockara Beau covered that section fractionally faster than him. The sectional I thought he went too fast in, he only covered it 0.16 sec fast, but Knockara Beau was actually 0.88 seconds slower than optimal there, suggesting it was him who went the more uneven pace.

Which horse ran their race most optimally?

The Total figure at the end adds up how far from optimal each horse was combined. It’s a little basic compared to what you can do with sectionals, but it’s still far more advanced than what the naked eye can do. Big Bucks with a figure of 1.54 seconds, was actually the most optimally paced horse of all the placed runners that day. That was not what I was expecting to find. So when Sam appeared to be letting him stride on, he was really just maintaining his pace, and Knockara Beau was easing off. These figures show just how far off you can be with the naked eye, and why you should very rarely be drawing the definite conclusions we punters seem to love drawing.

That comment goes not just to me and the others who thought it was a poor ride, but also to the RUK pundits who called the criticism ludicrous. There analysis was no more advanced than the pundits who claimed it was a poor ride, and I’d suggest it was more luck than judgement that meant they were in this case correct. Some of the comments from supporters of the ride were definitely ludicrous, one I heard a few times was that the horse is a stayer, so therefore you have to let him stride on. The insinuation that just because a horse stays, it can go whatever pace it wants, is very simplistic, and totally flawed. No matter how far a horse stays, if he goes too fast for his ability he will pay for it late on.

How Robust Are The Results?

The optimal percentages I came up with for each section aren’t the most robust, but they won’t be that far out either, and are enough to show if any blatant pace errors occurred. They certainly didn’t with Big Bucks. Even a look at the raw sectionals in comparison with the others recorded that day, can tell you in the section he made his ground he wasn’t going too fast, and in the section he lost his ground, at the end, he wasn’t going overly slow. When a jockey kicks too soon, a very basic analysis of the sectionals will show him going far too fast, then even enough, and far too slow at the end. This didn’t happen with Big Bucks.  The second placed horse in the first, run over 2 mile 1 finished slower than him, both Red Sherlock and Rathvinden finished slower than him. I could go on with examples. No logical interpretation of the times I presented could conclude that Big Bucks finished overly slowly for the trip/class/conditions, and as such he couldn’t have kicked too soon.

Is using only one lap robust?

If you had proper optimal sectionals for the course, gleaned from past fast times, then yes of course you can see if the horse was paced correctly on that lap. Yes one horse may have gone much faster on the first lap, another may have gone slower, but my only objective here was to see did Sam use to much gas, to soon, on that last lap. Regardless of pace on the first lap, you should run the second lap evenly. If you went far too fast on the first lap, you will hit the wall sometime on the second, and obviously won’t run it evenly, but the point here was to see if he went quicker than par when he kicked, and slower than optimal at the end. You don’t need the first lap time for that, as the possible too fast period happened on the last lap.

What do the other times on that card tell us?

Well you can see that the Red Sherlock race hotted up prematurely, from the 4th to 3rd last they both went about 1.3 seconds faster than optimal. This resulted in them finishing off the race very slowly, and it became quite a test of stamina. The rest of the runners paid for contesting that sectional in a similar time. The fact Rathvinden traveled through the fast part of the race so well, but was very tired on the run in, suggests this is as far as he wants to go, and if he was to step up in trip for the Albert Bartlett he would be unlikely to get home.

Lac Fontana still well in for the County Hurdle

Lac Fontana was still on the bridle jumping the last, and indeed his jockey only asked him a real question half way up the run in, when he went clear for a 5l victory. Sometimes when a horse goes clear like that, they are only going away from a tiring rival, and the visual impression flatters them. This certainly wasn’t the case here, as the 2nd horse Totalize actually recorded the 3rd fastest time, from the last to the line that day, and was 0.77 faster than optimal for it. This means La Fontana who was 1.82 seconds faster than optimal from the last, could be rated a could bit better than the bare margin, and even off his 12lb higher mark he must have a great chance in the County Hurlde.

What about Big Bucks World Hurdle prospects?

Well you certainly couldn’t rate him any better than the result, as he was paced more evenly than the winner. On that basis he would need to find quite a bit to win the World Hurlde. His trainer is adamant he left plenty to work on, so while a return to his very best is unlikley, he may still be good enough to win. As for who I think is the best bet in the race. More Of That when I do my full World Hurdle Preview the night before the race.

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