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Baaeed - Simon Rowlands on his extraordinary sectionals

"His 23.10s for the final quarter of a mile was the fastest by 0.25s (about one and a half lengths) of any horse, of any age, at any distance, during 2022 Royal Ascot."

It is no small distinction to be recognised officially as the best European racehorse in the post-Frankel era, but that is the honour accorded to Baaeed, and it is not even a close-run thing.

Treve, Golden Horn, Cracksman (twice) and Ghaiyyath were all rated 130 in the end-of-year World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, but Baaeed was assessed significantly higher in 2022, on 135. Frankel himself garnered a 140 figure in 2012, while Baaeed’s sire, Sea The Stars, came out at 136 in 2009. That is good company to be keeping.

The race that sealed it for Baaeed was the International Stakes at York, but there had been plenty of notice that a performance like that might be in the offing, hence Baaeed going off at long odds on the day.

Baaeed had won nine starts out of nine prior to the International, the previous five also at Group 1 level, and he had done so with a great deal of style as well as substance.

The measure of a horse’s ability is not always reflected in the margins it has over its rivals at the line or the overall times it records, but also in how it got there. That can be measured precisely by sectionals in this day and age. Baaeed was “a sectionals horse” from the outset.

Baaeed’s Group 1 spree started in September 2021 in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, in which he went off at odds on following some breathtaking wins in lesser company. He ran from 400 metres out to 200 metres out that day in 10.77s – equivalent to 10.83s for a furlong or 41.5 mph – and finished off with a 11.69s section at a stage when most horses are slowing more markedly.

He then lowered the colours of the hitherto Champion Miler Palace Pier in the 2021 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, showing his trademark turn of foot despite good to soft ground conditions, running the final 2f in 24.05s, second-fastest on the whole card.

It was back to lightning-quick splits in real as well as in relative terms in 2022, when good to firm ground at Newbury in May saw Baaeed run 10.87s then 11.11s furlongs from 3f out to 1f out. Similar ground at Goodwood in July witnessed him posting splits of 11.20s, 10.70s and 11.31s for the final three sections, all of which proved far too much for Modern Games, Alcohol Free and others.

In between Newbury and Goodwood, Baaeed trounced his opposition in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. Horses seldom break 11.0s in the closing stages at this venue due to the uphill nature of its finish, but Baaeed got close, and his 23.10s for the final quarter of a mile was the fastest by 0.25s (about one and a half lengths) of any horse, of any age, at any distance, during 2022 Royal Ascot. The runaway 5-furlong King’s Stand Stakes victor Nature Strip, Australia’s nine-time Group 1 winning sprinter, was next-fastest.

There was no doubting that Baaeed had the speed – indeed, he would have been an interesting proposition against the best at short of a mile had connections so chosen – but did he have the stamina for a race at 10 furlongs and beyond? The 2022 International Stakes answered that emphatically in the affirmative.

The Course Track splits for the race showed that High Definition set a good pace to begin with, completing the opening three-and-a-bit furlongs two lengths ahead of par for the conditions, though his rivals allowed him to get on with it to a degree, and Baaeed was held up several lengths behind.

The mid-section of the race saw that pace slacken somewhat, which meant that the main body of the field entered the long York home straight a good few lengths behind schedule given the prevailing conditions, as well as behind the leader. The picture then changed, rapidly.

Mishriff started to bear down on High Definition, but Baaeed was doing the same to him, improving from second-last to third in the space of a furlong, and running the race’s only sub 11.0s split in the process (10.96s, 41.1 mph), despite still being hard on the bridle.

Mishriff hit the front briefly but was a sitting duck for Baaeed, who breezed past with a near-effortless 11.34s penultimate furlong, before forging clear to win by an official six and a half lengths, half a length further than Mishriff himself had managed 12 months earlier.

Along the way, Baaeed ran the fastest furlong from 4f out to 3f out, from 3f out to 2f out, from 2f out to 1f out, and from 1f out to the winning line, in a display of complete dominance.

What had gone before was very, very good, but what Baaeed did at York that day was truly spectacular and justified his being mentioned in the same breath as past greats of the turf and the best previous winners of this world-class contest.

Frankel may have achieved more when winning by seven lengths in 2012, and Sea The Stars may have achieved something similar when accounting for Mastercraftsman by a length in course-record time in 2009, but neither of those legends ran the closing stages as quickly as Baaeed did, in actual terms or when times are adjusted for surface speed.

The fact is that the ground was especially fast in Sea The Stars’ year and quite fast in Frankel’s. By contrast, it was “good”, and if anything on the easy side of that, when Baaeed won, as judged on time analysis across the whole card.

Even Sea The Stars was beaten once, and Baaeed’s unblemished record went by the wayside on his final start, in the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October. Baaeed had form at the track, on softish going, and at beyond a mile, but the combination of the three saw him fail to shine for the first time in his career. These things happen.

Baaeed got better as his unbeaten run went on, showing top-class form, high-class overall times, and some sensational sectionals, which begs the question “how did he do it?” The “how” in this respect being the biomechanics involved.

The speed with which a horse gets from A to B is a product of its stride frequency (also known as “cadence”) multiplied by its stride length, though there is a whole lot more going on under the bonnet which may cause cadence and stride length to drop or to increase, to be sustained or to be short-lived.

Stride length is affected by circumstances, not least by surface speed, but cadence is more hard-wired and tends to determine a horse’s stamina rather than its ability. Sprinters have to be able to stride quickly to generate the requisite speed, while stayers have to be able to switch off, at least part of the time, to conserve energy for longer distances. There are few exceptions to this rule.

Baaeed displayed both and had a remarkably wide cadence range - in the top 3% of all horses by such a measure - from as low as 2.18 strides/second early in the International Stakes to as high as 2.50 strides/second late on for his Queen Anne win, the latter what might be associated with a sprinter. Whether an elite performer like Baaeed or not, the ability to stride both fast and slow increases a horse's and jockey's options

Baaeed had a long stride when conditions enabled him to show it, measured at 26.7 feet early in the straight at York, when he was still very much travelling within himself, and operating at just 2.25 strides/second. That is elite performer level when the population average is only around 24.5 feet.

Baaeed was a remarkable racehorse, with some remarkable attributes, including in terms of striding. Could he “do a Sea The Stars” and sire one about as good as himself? Given the ability he possessed and his exemplary pedigree, you would hope there is a fair chance.

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