Frankel to meet 2011 International Stakes winner Twice Over at York
• Stablemate lined up to face world's highest-rated racehorse
• Aidan O'Brien declares St Nicholas Abbey on target for race
Frankel's first venture into the uncharted territory of racing over a mile and a quarter will at least be no walkover with a number of possible challengers emerging on Tuesday ahead of next Wednesday's Juddmonte International Stakes, including last year's winner and stablemate Twice Over.
Aidan O'Brien, who has twice sent out Excelebration to finish second to Frankel already this season, will switch weapons when sending St Nicholas Abbey across for the race. While Godolphin's Farhh, second to Frankel earlier this month in the Sussex Stakes, is also a likely runner.
However, while sportingly prepared to take up the challenge, nobody seems brave enough to think they might be in with a chance of ending Frankel's unbeaten streak.
"Frankel is a great horse. Every time he runs, we're just privileged. We're just being competitors really," said O'Brien. "I'm not sure we've ever really challenged him. And I'm not sure any horse ever will. The Juddmonte was always on the cards for St Nicholas Abbey. He had a little bit of a break after the King George and he seems very well at the moment."
Despite the tactical misjudgement of his son, Joseph, that allowed his rivals to steal a crucial march on St Nicholas Abbey in Ascot's King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, O'Brien offered no hint of disappointment at the performance.
"We were very happy with his run," he said. "He travelled well and quickened really well." O'Brien also gave scant shrift to the notion that St Nicholas Abbey has produced nearly all of his best performances on left-handed tracks, such as York. "I don't know about that really," he said. "He doesn't hang, he's a very well balanced horse. He hasn't maybe won as many times going right handed but I don't think that's the reason. Frankel is an incredible horse but we've always thought the world of St Nicholas Abbey but we're excited and looking forward to the race."
Both Farhh and the Roger Varian-trained Sri Putra will be left in the International and the Group Three Strensall Stakes 48 hours later, with a final decision taken on their participation nearer to the race.
"You can't see Frankel being beaten, but that doesn't mean we won't run," said Crisford. "Much will depend upon on the ground and how he is doing at that particular time. Mentally it [getting beaten] doesn't scar him, so that's not an issue that comes into the equation. He's thoroughly reliable and consistent."
Varian assessed his chances of beating Frankel as "about zero" but said he would be keen to run Sri Putra on fast ground, unless it appeared clear that the horse would be just "an also-ran".
"We're very realistic about his chances but if conditions were in our favour, we'd probably pitch him in," he said.
Dancing Rain also remains a consideration for the International, although for her return from nearly a year off with injury, the Yorkshire Oaks later in the week may prove the preferred option.
Meanwhile Frankel's preparations continued smoothly with a routine canter up Warren Hill here, watched by owner Khalid Abdullah's racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe.
Trainer Sir Henry Cecil, continuing to receive treatment in his fight against cancer, is said to remain hopeful that he will be watching the colt whose career he has skillfully nurtured in person at York next week.
"This race has certainly been planned for quite a while," said Grimthorpe. "We gave it serious consideration last year but Henry wanted to wait a little longer. This year it was foremost in all of our thoughts, especially Prince Khalid's. Frankel has already proved himself a pretty versatile horse and I don't think too many differentials will upset him but I think the Knavesmire is a very fair course and I think he will relish it."
Frankel is guaranteed to face at least two opponents next Wednesday, with stablemates Twice Over, the winner of the race 12 months ago, and Bullet Train – Frankel's regular pacemaking partner – both also set to take their chances.
"Prince Khalid said 'If a lot of people don't take Frankel on we will support our race' and why wouldn't we support it with a horse who is the defending champion," said Grimthorpe.
"Twice Over's tremendous enthusiasm has been retained. You just have to see him come out of the box to realise that.
"He works to a really good norm every time and he showed us just before the Eclipse that he was coming back to that level. I did actually nearly have him sold to a very good stud but Henry got wind of it and he loves the horse like nothing else."
Grimthorpe admitted to wanting Frankel retire to stud with his reputation undiminished and his unbeaten record intact.
"I don't believe there is an owner in the world who doesn't want an unbeaten horse," he said. "I don't think that is an unnatural thing. But we try not to think about it.
"The whole point of the campaign this year has been to make him as good as we can, to campaign him in the best possible places for him and most importantly to have him on top form each time he turns up. Every time we send him out, he's putting himself on the line."
Bookmakers Coral offer 1-10 about Frankel winning the International, with St Nicholas Abbey and Farhh both 8-1 chances and Twice Over 20-1. But with the prospect that either Dancing Rain or Nathaniel – who needs rain to reach the Knavesmire in the next few days – could still take their chances, that price looks on the lean side.
At least the prospect of there being eight runners in the contest could open each-way betting as an option, with Coral reporting that betting turnover on the Sussex Stakes, Frankel's most recent victory, was only a tenth of the volume taken on the same race 12 months previously.
"While Frankel is great for racing, the unfortunate by-product of his dominance is that while he is too short to back, punters don't want to take him on either," said spokesman David Stevens.
Will Hayler, The Guardian
14 August 2012