Grand Steeple weekend: Our sectional timing report

21 May 2024

Aguado 24 Nietzsche Has

Photograph Niezsche Has :

Losange mastered the Race

In the past fifteen years, four editions of the Racing TV Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil have been completed in under six minutes, including the last two. Losange Bleu finished just shy of this mark at 5’58’’9, with the record still held by Thélème set a year earlier at 5’51’’2. The race’s weight fell almost entirely on Losange Bleu's shoulders, like in the Hypothèse Hurdle (Gr3), run over 2m3½f in March on heavy ground. That day, he also defeated the tenacious July Flower, who again delivered a formidable final effort to finish third, ahead of horses she had previously bested in the Hypothèse by taking second place. Then, she gained nearly 0.4 seconds on the winner between the penultimate hurdle and the finish line. Here, she matched his time within 0.01 seconds within this bracket, clocking 29’’3, while the runner-up Hewick posted 29’’2 over the final 376m segment.

Losange Bleu controlled the race with mastery.

A Sprint in the Ferdinand Dufaure 4yo Chase

How Kolokico won the 2024 Prix Ferdinand Dufaure 4yo Chase was a stark contrast to Juntos Ganamos’s victory a year earlier. The new winner relied entirely on his sprinting ability by waiting until the back straight to sneak along the rail and sprinting to the finish. He completed the final kilometre in just 1’9’’5, compared to 1’10’’6 for his predecessor. Despite running on similar ground (4.0 in 2023, 4.1 this year), the 2023 winner’s overall time was 4.3 seconds faster than Sunday’s victor.

Despite leading the race, Karre d’As reached the back straight in less than 4’20. In contrast, Juntos Ganamos did so in under 4’15 last year, which largely explains his inability to post a more competitive final kilometre.

He later proved his high-class jumping credentials, even if he couldn’t complete this year’s Grand Steeple task.

Kolokico’s second-placed finisher, Kador de Ciergues, also waited and completed the last kilometre at full speed (1’10’’4), making it truly a waiting race, even though the leaders did not push anyone into the red. The 2023 winner had started his move a kilometre earlier, reaching a kilometre reduction of 1’11’’5 over the final 2,000 metres, compared to 1’12’’1 for his successor, who nonetheless flirted with 60km/h at the finish, a rarity in a 4-year-old steeplechase.

Relevant evolution could not be observed with preparatory races run on softer ground. Times ranged from 1’25’’3 to 1’19’’6 to 1’14’’7 in the Fleuret, Jean Stern and Dufaure, all contested over 2m6f.

Exceptional 3-Year-Old Jumpers

The 3-year-old hurdle races at Auteuil are exceptionally high quality. This is why British and Irish investors fiercely compete for their best runners. Rigorous selection processes result in many horses being unable to make the cut.

Additionally, the Auteuil course, having been drained, has become faster.

The times recorded in the Prix Aguado and Prix Sagan, the two Group 3 races for 3-year-olds during the Grand Steeple weekend, are telling. The ground remained unchanged over the two days, at 4.1 (very soft). However, Shika du Berlais and her peers ran four seconds faster on Saturday than Nietzsche Has and the other colts on Sunday. With less ground to cover (7 metres railing at the Passy turn only on Saturday), the colts ran approximately 30 metres less. The largest time difference was due to Née en Bleu in the Prix Sagan, between 3,000 and 2,000 metres (1’9’’ versus 1’14’’4), which is essentially in the first half of the 3,500m course. The only horse to break 1’10’’ per kilometre in the race was Shika du Berlais, with 1’8’’6 in the final section. 2nd-placed Sobriquette’s times were also remarkable, and these are evidently very good fillies.

About 24 hours later, the Colts' overall times were less impressive. However, the final segments were dazzling: 1’7’’6 for Nietzsche Has, 1’8’’1 for the second-placed Rooster Crowing, the race leader (and best run-in time at 18’’03 versus 18’’08 for the winner, but 17’’99 for Shika du Berlais the previous day!), and 1’8’’4 for the third-placed Kivala du Berlais.

Examining the tracking reports from the past four editions of the Aguado, the fastest was Losange Bleu’s 4’5’’6 in 2022 (ground at 4.1). The best final kilometre was by Jigme last year, 1’6’’4, with 1’6’’9 for the second-placed Léon du Berlais. No other horse has finished at that speed in this race since 2020, while Jigme’s total time was 4’5’’9 (ground at 4.0), almost as fast as Losange Bleu a year later.

These are extraordinary times, and the fillies have kept up this year. We now regularly see 3-year-old races under 1’11’’ per kilometre, which was exceedingly rare a decade ago. We are approaching the kilometre reductions of some long-distance championships over the flat, not necessarily running on heavy ground (Holdthasigreen on soft ground in the 2019 Cadran: 1’10’’5).

A Thought for the Admiral

Pensée du Jour is a filly some find endearing, others less so. Her brilliant early last season convinced the former. The limits of her classic career dissuaded the latter.

However, the Wertheimer representative, inherited from the Wildenstein family earlier this year, vindicates Admiral Rous, the “father of the Turf.” This legendary figure of the original Jockey Club established the global weight-for-age scale over 150 years ago, a table setting the weights horses of different ages should carry to compete on equal terms. The gaps evolve over time and according to distance ranges.

According to this scale, updated and published by the European Pattern Committee (and revisited a few years ago by racing institutions to better reflect the favourable evolution of 3-year-olds’ performances), the Pensée du Jour that won the Prix Pénélope in 2023 on 1 April as a 3-year-old should have carried 19 pounds, or 8.5kg, less than her year-older self if she had faced herself in the Prix Corrida, last Monday.

This corresponds to 8.5 lengths, precisely the gap that separated the Camelot filly from the last in the field on Monday, translating on the clock to a difference of 1.36 seconds.

In the 2023 Pénélope, Pensée du Jour, who had already won the race practically from start to finish, posted 2’14’’3 on a ground rated at 3.6. Thirteen months later, still carrying 57kg but on a ground rated at 3.4, André Fabre’s trainee clocked 2’12’’7, a difference of 1.6 seconds. In other words, there would have been a contest between these "two" versions of the same filly, a testimony to Admiral Rous' work, which accurately assessed an observed gap under a young Victoria that persists under Macron.

However, the world has changed significantly since then, and the turf has not escaped this rule. Yet, for all its fancifulness, this little calculation offers something reassuring.