The Dubai Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket in October picked up its billing as ‘perhaps the greatest two-year-old race ever’ because of the presence of three highly promising, unbeaten colts in the field of six.
As well as Frankel, who contested the seven-furlong Dewhurst in preference to waiting for the longer Racing Post Trophy the following week, there was Dream Ahead, whose three wins included Group 1 successes in the Prix Morny and the Middle Park Stakes, and Saamidd, impressive winner of the Group 2 Champagne Stakes at Doncaster on his second outing. Saamidd went by the stable nickname of ‘Pegasus’, though his form, while smart, didn’t compare with that shown by Frankel and Dream Ahead, who, even at that stage, were rated by Timeform more highly than any two-year-old since the 1997 Dewhurst winner Xaar.
Frankel was sent off at 6/4-on, with Dream Ahead at 5/2 and Saamidd a 7/1-chance. The remaining trio, maiden winner Roderic O’Connor, Group 1-placed maiden Glor Na Mara and Champagne Stakes third Waiter’s Dream, looked to be making up the numbers, sent off at 25/1 or longer. The race failed to live up to its billing, something of a letdown almost from the start with Dream Ahead edging right from the stalls and hampering both Saamidd and Frankel. Roderic O’Connor took the field along, but none of the presumed principals settled despite a good pace. In the end, Dream Ahead and Saamidd failed to give anything like their true running, filling the last two places. Frankel, however, was still able to cruise past Roderic O’Connor to score by two and a quarter lengths, with a further two and three quarter lengths back to the close finishers Glor Na Mara and Waiter’s Dream. Frankel produced a performance—in Timeform’s view at any rate—bettered in the Dewhurst this century only by New Approach. The presence in second of a horse just out of maiden company, even from Aidan O’Brien’s yard, initially raised doubts in some quarters about the value of the form, but Roderic O’Connor went on to win the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud. The view taken of the form is backed up by the timefigure Frankel achieved (0.98 fast, the best by a two-year-old all season), as well as by analysis of the sectional times.
Such had been the expectations beforehand, though, that the trainer seemed to be talking almost as if Frankel had been beaten when reflecting on the result of the Dewhurst the following day: ‘Frankel unfortunately got a nasty bump leaving the stalls and that gave him a shock and the result was he ran very free … things don’t always go as one would hope and I don’t think the ground helped either.’ Frankel’s exuberance may yet prove his Achilles heel—he always wears a crossed noseband and has apparently required a lot of work to teach him to settle at home. As for the view of the ground, this might be a red herring, the official going good to soft at both Ascot and Newmarket (Timeform returned the Ascot going as good and Frankel has raced so far only on good going or softer).
Frankel was Cecil’s third winner of the Dewhurst Stakes, the two previous ones also among the best winners of the race in the last forty years. Wollow, successful in 1975, went on to victory at three in the Two Thousand Guineas, Eclipse Stakes and Sussex Stakes, rated 132. Diesis, who achieved the rare double of the Middle Park Stakes and the Dewhurst in an outstanding two-year-old campaign, was rated 133 at two, the same as Frankel. However, as mentioned earlier, Diesis was seen out only twice as a three-year-old and failed to show anything like the same form. In comparing Frankel with his previous winners of the race, Cecil has tended to speak mostly of Wollow, whose main failure came when found wanting for stamina in the Derby. Frankel was actually his trainer’s first winner of a British Group 1 race for two-year-olds since Reams of Verse landed the 1996 Fillies’ Mile (Passage of Time won the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud for the stable in 2006). Reams of Verse went on to win the Oaks, as did two of Cecil’s earlier winners of the Fillies’ Mile, Oh So Sharp (a triple classic winner) and Diminuendo. Another, Bosra Sham, won the One Thousand Guineas. Cecil has trained ten winners of the race now staged as the Racing Post Trophy, the most recent being King’s Theatre in 1993. King’s Theatre was runner-up in both the Derby and the Irish Derby and later won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Reference Point won what was then the William Hill Futurity in 1986 before landing both the Derby and St Leger, while Armiger returned to Doncaster to take second in the St Leger.
If Frankel’s Dewhurst performance didn’t quite come up to the highest expectations, it was in large part due to the striking impression he had created previously. His home reputation preceded him before he made his debut in a mile maiden at Newmarket in August, when he started a warm favourite in a field of twelve and won with much more in hand than the half-length winning margin over Nathaniel. Only two took him on in a minor event at Doncaster’s St Leger meeting the following month, for which he started at 2/1-on. Frankel’s performance wasn’t straightforward to assess, because he won so easily and by so far, beating the debutant Rainbow Springs and the fairly useful Diamond Geezah by thirteen lengths and four.
The race may have been hard to quantify on form, but the timefigure recorded by Frankel was smart and the manner of his victory so impressive that he was made favourite for both Guineas and Derby straight afterwards. Rainbow Springs went on to show herself a useful filly when third in the Prix Marcel Boussac on her next start, though, by then, Frankel himself had produced a more substantial, though no less impressive, performance when landing the Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes on its final running at Ascot, for the time being at least.
The Royal Lodge attracted just four opponents for Frankel, who was sent off at 100/30-on. The O’Brien-trained Treasure Beach had shown progressive form in nurseries and started second favourite at 11/2. Treasure Beach looked second best on form, even though he was rated almost a stone below Frankel. Treasure Beach also looked to have more potential to improve than the three others in the line-up, Klammer (11/1), Slim Shadey (16/1) and Eskimo (20/1), who had recorded five wins from thirteen starts between them, none in higher than listed class. Frankel couldn’t have been more impressive, his rider Tom Queally content to bide his time at the back of the field in the steadily-run first part of the race. When Frankel made his move, however, the race was quickly as good as over, and he pulled ten lengths clear of Klammer, without appearing to take much out of himself, and clearly value for a good deal more than the winning margin. Klammer went on to land the Horris Hill Stakes at Newbury, in doing so more than confirming the improvement he had shown at Ascot. The overall timefigure recorded for the Royal Lodge was nothing out of the ordinary, but sectional times taken for the race by Timeform confirmed the vivid impression that here indeed was a horse of outstanding potential.
A two-year-old of Frankel’s merit comes along only rarely. Two-year-old racing has tended to become less competitive in recent times but, even so, there have been fewer than two dozen two-year-olds in the last hundred years or so who could be considered on a par with Frankel. The following list should not be considered exhaustive, but the ’nineties produced three with such claims, Xaar in 1997, Celtic Swing in 1994 and Arazi in 1991. Arazi was a prolific winner at two when the vision of him scything through the field to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile will live long in the memory; Celtic Swing was unbeaten in three starts, his twelve-length victory in the Racing Post Trophy a record winning margin in a Group 1 two-year-old event in Britain; Xaar won four of his five starts, including the Dewhurst by seven lengths.
A couple of decades earlier there had been Apalachee, who beat the winner of the Grand Criterium in the Observer Gold Cup, coming fairly soon after three outstanding juveniles, My Swallow, Brigadier Gerard and Mill Reef, who were contemporaries. Brigadier Gerard beat Mill Reef and My Swallow in the Two Thousand Guineas the following spring, after which the first two went on to show themselves among the outstanding racehorses of the twentieth century. Only three years before My Swallow, Brigadier Gerard and Mill Reef, Petingo and Sir Ivor had arrived in the same crop, one the unbeaten winner of the Gimcrack (by six lengths) and the Middle Park, the other the winner of the National Stakes and the Grand Criterium (this was the same year that Vaguely Noble won the Observer Gold Cup by seven lengths).
The ’fifties featured the filly Star of India, unbeaten in five races and rated 138 by Timeform, and a French filly, Texana, who won all her eleven races and was rated 136 (she crops up again in the essay on Gilt Edge Girl as the winner of the first Prix de l’Abbaye). In the immediate years after World War II there was the extremely speedy Windy City (rated 142), the only horse ever to head the Free Handicaps in Britain, France and Ireland, who was sent to the States at three, and Tudor Minstrel, My Babu and Abernant. Tudor Minstrel was never out of a canter when winning the 1947 Guineas before failing to stay in the Derby; My Babu (who raced under the name Lerins in 1947) won the last five of his six starts as a two-year-old, including the Champagne Stakes by four lengths, before winning the Two Thousand Guineas the following year, while Abernant was narrowly beaten in his Guineas before going on to become one of the best sprinters of the century.
The wartime Derby winner Dante was a brilliant two-year-old, unbeaten in six races, while the early years of the twentieth century had also seen some truly outstanding two-year-olds. The Tetrarch, given the accolade of the best two-year-old of all in A Century of Champions, was unbeaten in seven starts at that age but didn’t race again due to injury. His son Tetratema was almost as good, assessed 12 lb above his nearest rival in the 1919 Free Handicap (The Bloodstock Breeders’ Review described him as `a very sober and sensible colt, endowed with remarkable speed and beautiful action’). Tetratema won the Two Thousand Guineas the following spring, failed to stay in the Derby and was champion sprinter at both three and four.
Perhaps most remarkable of all, to those used to present-day racing at least, was Bayardo who was also rated 12lb clear in the Free Handicap in 1908. A harsh winter, which held up his training, was said to have been the cause of defeats in the Guineas and the Derby, but he won his eleven other starts at three, including the Eclipse, St Leger and Champion Stakes and then went on to win the Gold Cup at four. The greatest racemare of the twentieth century, Pretty Polly, was unbeaten in nine races as a juvenile in 1903, beating the leading juvenile colt St Amant in the Middle Park (he went on to win the Two Thousand Guineas and Derby, Pretty Polly landing the fillies’ triple crown).
So where will Frankel figure in the pantheon after his three-year-old days? The subsequent performances of some recent outstanding two-year-olds may not seem to bode particularly well, but it would be illogical to judge the prospects of any champion two-year-old solely on the subsequent records of some earlier title-holders. Frankel is a big, strong colt, possessing an imposing physique which suggests he will train on well and, provided he steers clear of illness and injury, he looks certain to win good races—and plenty of them. As his rating implies, Frankel has the potential to develop into one of the greats of the sport, and is in the right hands to do so.
So far as Frankel’s optimum distance is concerned, it is usually the soundest approach to expect a horse to conform to his pedigree, at least until such time as his racecourse performances prove otherwise. Frankel is bred to stay a mile and a half, by Galileo who—as well as having plenty of good two-year-olds (New Approach and Teofilo also among them)—is a strong influence for stamina, only a handful of his very best performers not proven over at least a mile and a quarter, most staying a good deal further. Just about the only exceptions among Galileo’s best fifty or so runners are four who won or were placed in a Guineas at either Newmarket or the Curragh, Nightime, Gan Amhras, Cuis Ghaire and Gile Na Greine, though at least three of those have valid reasons for not having shown the expected stamina. Nightime wasn’t herself in two subsequent runs, while Gan Amhras has been let down by his attitude over a variety of trips since finishing third in Sea The Stars’ Guineas. The sisters Cuis Ghaire and Gile Na Greine (out of a daughter of Danehill, as is Frankel) were untried beyond a mile, although Gile Na Greine had the Oaks as a target at one stage. Like Gan Amhras, Gile Na Greine had some temperamental issues.
If Frankel does prove untypical of Galileo’s stock, he will develop in similar vein to his dam Kind, who was bred to stay middle distances but turned out to be a sprinter, winning a seven-furlong maiden before gaining five further successes, including in listed company, at five and six furlongs. Kind was among a batch of Juddmonte mares sent to sons of Sadler’s Wells under a continuing arrangement started towards the end of the ‘nineties when the mares visited Sadler’s Wells and the offspring were shared between Juddmonte Farms and Coolmore (St Leger winner Brian Boru and Voltigeur winner Powerscourt were among the first bred under the arrangement). Apparently the two organisations take it in turns to pick the offspring and Juddmonte had first call in the year Frankel—an outstanding yearling apparently—was bred. Await The Dawn was another product of the arrangement racing in the latest season.
Kind’s dam Rainbow Lake won the Lancashire Oaks when trained by Cecil, though she became disappointing. Rainbow Lake’s other winners conform much more to their pedigree than Kind, the best of them the high-class Powerscourt (by Galileo’s sire Sadler’s Wells), who won the Great Voltigeur and Tattersalls Gold Cup, was twice first past the post in the Arlington Million and was third in the Irish St Leger. The smart Brimming (second in the Mallard Handicap), the useful Westlake and the fairly useful Unaware (who won at a mile) all stayed at least a mile and a half. Rainbow Lake’s latest runner Arizona Jewel made a promising start for Cecil over a mile on heavy ground in October. The third dam Rockfest—who was acquired when Juddmonte purchased the British-based stock of John Hay Whitney in the ‘eighties—was also useful, winning over seven furlongs and a mile at two and staying a mile and a half at three. Frankel is Kind’s second foal. The first Bullet Train (by Sadler’s Wells) won the Lingfield Derby Trial in May but ran no sort of race in the Derby and also disappointed on two of his three subsequent starts. Bullet Train and Rainbow Lake aren’t the only runners from this family to have lost their way. A couple of Rockfest’s winning offspring proved disappointing, one of them, Rock Falcon, ending up rated a double ‘squiggle’.
Cecil’s views on Frankel’s prospects of staying the Derby trip are worth noting. After the Royal Lodge, he immediately questioned whether Frankel would stay the Derby distance. After the Dewhurst he said: `I’m not clever enough to go for the Guineas without a prep, I don’t trust myself. I’m not going to try and make him into a Derby horse if he’s not going to stay; I’m hopeful he will make a Guineas and St James’s Palace horse. It will be up to the Prince.’ There’s little evidence, over a long period as one of the most successful owners in the game, that Khalid Abdulla often goes against the views of his trainers.
Frankel, it should be said, was named in memory of the five-times champion trainer in America Bobby Frankel, who died of leukaemia in 2009. Abdulla owned Frankel’s one classic winner, Empire Maker, who was successful in the Belmont Stakes in 2003. So, probably the Greenham at Newbury—Frankel would have to shoulder a penalty in the Craven—and then the Two Thousand Guineas looks the likely route to be taken with Frankel who may never be tested at a mile and a half. The serious reservations held by his trainer are based on the horse’s demeanour, the tendency to fight his rider suggesting strongly that he will not get the Derby trip. Frankel is a very exciting prospect, though, and hopefully, when the question is inevitably asked again, Henry Cecil will have cause to say ‘Yes, this is the best I’ve ever trained.’