Frankel hailed as greatest ever after Royal Ascot Queen Anne Stakes win
Sir Henry Cecil's colt looked the perfect racehorse in recording an explosive 11-length victory
There was loud and generous applause as Frankel returned to the winner's enclosure after his extraordinary performance in the Queen Anne Stakes here on Tuesday, and a richer chorus of cheers than this most buttoned-up of venues can normally raise.
But as attention turned to the next race on the card, and 40,000 spectators drifted back towards the bars and the betting windows, it was possible to wonder just how many of them appreciated the unique nature of the race that had just unfolded on Ascot's straight mile.
Frankel had, after all, been trailed extensively as the star attraction on the first day of the Royal meeting, and although there were very few of the banners and flags that marked his last trip to a racecourse at Newbury last month, a starting price of 1-10 left little doubt about the likelihood of victory. So perhaps there were those who saw one horse finish well clear of another and assumed that it was little more than all the insiders and form experts had expected.
It was not. Frankel has been brilliant throughout his career, and his 11-length winning margin on Tuesday was not even the easiest of his career, as he won a minor event at Doncaster in 2010 by 13.
But this was not just Frankel's finest performance, it was possibly the best single performance by any horse, on any track, since three Arabian stallions were imported into Britain to found the thoroughbred breed in the early years of the 18th century.
It is some claim, for sure, given the millions of horses that have been bred and raced over the last 300 years, and one that can never be proved beyond doubt. Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel's trainer, is reluctant to compare him directly with the other champions he has personally prepared over the course of his illustrious 40-year career, so how can Frankel be measured against the great horses of the 19th century?
But it can be argued that since the middle of the 20th century, racing has developed into a more international, and competitive, sport than it had ever been in the past. And from the late 1940s the Timeform organisation has been rating the merit of every horse to start a race in Britain and, for much of that time, the best horses around the world too.
Until Tuesday, no horse had bettered the Timeform rating of 145 achieved by Sea-Bird, the winner of the Derby and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1965. The French-trained colt coasted to victory in both races with an easy, almost effortless stride and even the great Dancing Brave, who won one of the strongest Arcs in history in 1986, could not quite equal his mark. Now, though, Sea-Bird is the second best horse in Timeform history, with Frankel rated not just one but two pounds better on 147.
"The facts are that Frankel's performance is likely to surpass anything witnessed in Timeform's 64-year history," David Johnson, the publication's Flat editor, said. "A point worth emphasising is the consistency with which Frankel has produced such performances. This is the fifth time he has produced a 140-plus rating."
It is not so much the number that matters, though, as what it represents. Breeding and racing thoroughbred racehorses is a pastime for the wealthy few but, even so, countless years of effort by many thousands of breeders over three centuries have been directed towards producing the perfect racehorse. Frankel is the horse that every one of them dreamed that they might create one day.
In his younger days, Frankel was headstrong and there were fears that there might be too much fire in his character to channel his talent effectively into victory after victory; at some point, he might pull and worry his way to a defeat.
The mature horse, though, is as close to perfection as the genetic balancing act between speed, stamina, physical strength and temperament is ever likely to get. He settles in the early stages, cruises until the quarter-pole and then runs away from opponents whose effort is already spent. Nor is it a simple change of gear from fast to faster. It is a smooth shift, a gradual buildup of power and momentum that means he can finish a Group One race with an 11-length advantage and still appear to have plenty of running left to give.
"I don't understand the assessments of different generations and countries and distances," Cecil said afterwards in the winner's enclosure. "I leave that to everyone else – to me it's all double Dutch. It's very difficult, what would have happened today if I'd had a Wollow, Bolkonski or Kris in the race, would they have been closer or further away?
"When you unleash him, he will quicken up for three or four furlongs, where a normal horse will quicken for one or two. He keeps going when other horses don't."
Cecil's mantra after every victory for Frankel is that "every horse is beatable". Injury too is an ever-present possibility, both on the racecourse and the Newmarket gallops. But if his physical health remains good, the well of racing ability in Frankel's frame is so deep that it he will surely go through his final three or four races unbeaten. It is not just that no horse in the world could have lived with Frankel on Tuesday. It is unlikely that any horse ever foaled would have beaten him either.
Timeform's all-time greats
147 Frankel: Unbeaten in 11 races with potential to improve over further
145 Sea-Bird: Devastating winner of the Derby and the Arc in 1965
144 Brigadier Gerard: Winner of 17 of 18 races before retiring in 1972
142 Abernant: Champion sprinter in 1949/50
142 Ribot: Arc winner who went 16 races undefeated in 1950s
142 Windy City: Champion two-year-old of 1951
Greg Wood, The Guardian
20 June 2012