Racehorses of 2011

FRANKEL 3 b.c. Galileo (IRE) 134 - Kind (IRE) 112 (Danehill (USA) 126)                                                         143

Frankel’s the name, lady … there’ll never be another. The horse named in memory of the five-times Eclipse Award-winning American trainer Bobby Frankel has become the centre of attention whenever he is racing. Frankel’s scintillating performances in the Two Thousand Guineas (which he won by the widest margin for sixty-five years), the Sussex Stakes (widest winning margin for thirty-three) and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes made the hairs stand up on the back of the neck. They placed Frankel firmly in the upper echelon of the great horses of the now-extensive era since World War II and, unbeaten in nine races, he remains in training in the expectation that he will elevate himself to the top of the all-time rankings. After a brilliant three-year-old career, Frankel stands only 2lb below Sea-Bird and 1lb below the great milers Tudor Minstrel and Brigadier Gerard, the only three horses to have achieved higher Timeform ratings than Frankel over the last sixty-five years.

Tudor Minstrel achieved his rating of 144 in the first year for which Timeform ratings were published, at a time when the ‘cheeky chappie’ Max Miller, whose catchphrase inspired the opening line of this essay, was the highest-paid music hall entertainer in Britain. Miller was a flamboyant figure, famed for his garish suits and risque jokes. A war-ravaged nation needed its larger than life characters and Tudor Minstrel was also a flamboyant performer who captured the imagination, his destruction of the field in the 1947 Two Thousand Guineas a scarcely credible performance in a classic. Tudor Minstrel only came to be allotted a Timeform rating because Timeform’s founder Phil Bull, who gave up teaching and began racing on the courses in earnest in the ‘thirties, encountered problems producing his Best Horses of 1947 on time.

Frankel and Tom Queally © Trevor JonesBull started the Best Horses series in 1942, providing a review of the Flat-racing year which examined the performances of the best two hundred and fifty horses individually in essay form. The ‘vigour and clarity’ of Best Horses, in the words of the Daily Telegraph’s reviewer, ‘adds a new dimension to racing writing in this country.’ Best Horses grew in size as the years passed—covering four hundred and fifty horses in 1943, five hundred and fifty in 1945 and so on. The principal measure of the merit of the horses in that period were their racefigures—timefigures as they came to be known—calculated from times taken for individual races and adjusted mathematically for each horse to take into account factors such as how far the horse had won or been beaten by, what weight it had carried and the prevailing conditions on the day, such as the going and wind speed and direction. The racefigures were expressed in seconds and hundredths of seconds (per five furlongs) faster or slower than a defined standard. Tudor Minstrel’s 1.74 fast in the Two Thousand Guineas was the best recorded up to that time (he had achieved an almost equally phenomenal 1.70 fast when winning the National Breeders’ Produce Stakes over five at Sandown as a two-year-old). Tudor Minstrel’s Two Thousand Guineas timefigure has been surpassed only once, when Troy recorded 1.79 fast in the 1979 Derby.

The production problems associated with the burgeoning Best Horses became acute when racing started to return to normal after wartime restrictions. Howard Wright’s biography of Phil Bull recounts that Best Horses of 1946, written by Bull single-handedly, arrived from the printers on November 9th 1947, thirteen days before the end of the following Flat season, at around the time preparation of its successor was due to begin. Despite being ridiculously late, the annual was still well received, though, as one reviewer put it, ‘Mr Bull’s annual has almost every virtue except the dull but important one of punctuality.’ Outside help was called in for the writing of Best Horses of 1947, contributors including Quintin Gilbey of the Sporting Chronicle who was commissioned to write the essay on Tudor Minstrel, among others—though nothing could prevent Bull from having his own say in Best Horses of 1947, sometimes at greater length than the contributor’s own essay, when he felt the need to express it. Best Horses of 1947 was still late but Bull and his righthand man Dick Whitford, who assisted with the last three editions of Best Horses, came up with a temporary answer. The Best Horses of 1947 Timeform Supplement appeared in April 1948 and featured thumbnail commentaries on 3,800 horses and the first Timeform ratings (including Tudor Minstrel’s 144).

Whitford made his living in advertising before doing wartime service in the navy where he whiled away the long months of ‘mind-blowing’ naval patrol by conducting research on horseracing, examining the results of races and producing evidence that ‘racehorses were figurable, not approximately or roughly, but almost exactly.’ Whitford compiled a row of ‘ratings’ in a series of ledgers, showing how each horse had run on consecutive outings, and he later devised a scale to measure the differences between horses of different merit, producing a ‘universal handicap’—based on each horse’s best runs—of the horses in training during 1941, connecting stayers with sprinters, two-year-olds with three-year-olds, and so on. Whitford submitted his research to Bull in 1943 and correspondence continued between them until Whitford was demobbed in 1945 and joined Bull.

While writing brief comments on all the horses that ran in 1947—as part of the preparation for Best Horses of 1947—Whitford pencilled in, for his own guidance, alongside Bull’s time-based racefigures, the form ratings he had compiled. The ratings were expressed in pounds, specifically the number of pounds that a horse would be entitled to receive in an average Free Handicap (a horse worth 9-7—the maximum weight in an average Free Handicap in those days—received a rating of 133; Tudor Minstrel’s rating meant he was regarded as 11lb superior to the top horse in an average year). Time and form came together for the first time when the two figures both eventually appeared—along with a table of equivalents—in the Timeform Supplement published to recompense subscribers for the lateness of Best Horses of 1947. Timeform was born and Best Horses and the Supplement gradually evolved into Racehorses (Whitford left Timeform at the end of the 1949 Flat season, eventually becoming The Sporting Life’s Flat-racing handicapper after working as a racing manager and private handicapper).

Tudor Minstrel had just a few lines devoted to him in the Best Horses of 1947 Timeform Supplement but Best Horses included a ten-page, fully illustrated appreciation, written in the first-person-singular as was the style in all the Best Horses editions. Quintin Gilbey’s essay began: ‘However good one’s memory may be, a number of races, even important ones, become erased from the mind with the passing of time. On the other hand, there are races which are quite unforgettable, and such a one was the Two Thousand Guineas of 1947. Never have I seen a Guineas which can bear comparison with it, and I never expect to do so again. We have all seen races which were a foregone conclusion some way from home, but it was inconceivable that the Two Thousand Guineas should have been over and done with before the horses had travelled half a mile. Yet at the halfway stage the “quick result” men would have run no risk in telephoning Tudor Minstrel as the winner, thus securing a scoop at the expense of Raymond Glendenning, who was broadcasting the race.’

Gilbey had described unbeaten Tudor Minstrel as the greatest horse of all time in the Sporting Chronicle the day after the race, though, with the evidence of four subsequent races as a three-year-old to take into account (including when beaten at odds-on in the Derby and the Eclipse), Tudor Minstrel’s place in the pantheon was downgraded slightly by Gilbey in Best Horses to ‘one of the greatest horses of this or any other generation.’

Phil Bull’s postscript to Gilbey’s essay—half as long again as the original—began: ‘Anyone who questions Mr Gilbey’s statement that the winner of the 1947 Two Thousand Guineas could have been named with confidence when the horses had reached halfway should examine the photograph below, here published for the first time [and reproduced in the Introduction to this edition of Racehorses], which shows the field at that point. With the possible exception of Goldsborough, in third place, and Sayajirao, just behind him, every horse bar the leader is already off the bridle.’ Bull advised readers not to underestimate Tudor Minstrel’s merit ‘nor be misled by the fact that his failures in the Derby and the Eclipse Stakes robbed him of much of his ‘‘glamour’’ … So far as I know I have never yet described any horse as a world-beater, but, with the reservation about distance [Tudor Minstrel remained unbeaten at up to a mile], I think I am prepared so to describe Tudor Minstrel … The memory of Tudor Minstrel’s strolling home the length of a street in front of everything else will remain with me for the rest of my life. Like Quintin Gilbey, I don’t expect to see such a thing in a classic race again.’

2000 Guineas © Trevor JonesBull and Gilbey would have been centenarians had they lived to see Frankel scatter his opponents in the latest Two Thousand Guineas in a style strikingly reminiscent of Tudor Minstrel’s.

Like Tudor Minstrel, Frankel was an exceptional two-year-old who looked very much like becoming just as outstanding a champion at three. He won his four starts by an aggregate margin of over twenty-five lengths, which included romping home by ten in the Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot (one of the best performances by a juvenile in recent years) before beating the subsequent Criterium International winner Roderic O’Connor by two and a quarter in a much-hyped Dewhurst in which Frankel’s main opponent the wide-margin Middle Park winner Dream Ahead failed to give anything like his true running. Dream Ahead was a very good two-year-old, rated as highly in Racehorses as any juvenile since Xaar in 1997, but the World Thoroughbred Rankings still did Frankel a disservice by making the pair joint champion two-year-old. Racehorses had 5lb between them, Frankel earning a rating of 133p and looking undoubtedly a very exciting prospect indeed.

Greenham Stakes © Trevor JonesOdds on over the winter for the Two Thousand Guineas (and a warm favourite—with a run—for the Derby), Frankel reappeared in the totesport.com Greenham Stakes at Newbury in April with the full range of superlatives already heaped on him by the Newmarket gallops watchers in the spring, including one bizarre-sounding claim that he had outpaced the Cambridge to Newmarket train during one of his workouts!

Frankel landed odds of 4/1-on with the minimum of fuss in the Greenham, his intended pacemaker Picture Editor not really fulfilling his role and the exuberant Frankel being committed for home over two furlongs out after the early part of the race had been steadily run. Frankel looked at full stretch for a moment or two in the penultimate furlong, his rider administering a couple of sharp cracks of the whip as the 25/1-shot Excelebration stuck with him before Frankel forged ahead to win smoothly in the end by four lengths (Excelebration pulled six clear of the third to record a performance that was itself on a par with the normal standard for the winner of the race).

The list of beaten Two Thousand Guineas favourites in modern times is as long as your arm. In the previous twenty years, Zafonic and George Washington had been the only successful favourites in the race, with odds-on shots Celtic Swing and Xaar among those beaten, along with other hotpots such as Machiavellian, Marju, Hawk Wing, One Cool Cat, Dubawi, New Approach and St Nicholas Abbey, all of whom started at shorter than 2/1. Frankel was sent off at 2/1-on in the thirteen-runner field, the shortest-priced favourite for the Two Thousand Guineas for thirty-seven years (Apalachee finished third in 1974 at 9/4-on when he himself started the shortest-priced Guineas favourite since Colombo, who had landed odds of 7/2-on forty years before that).

Qipco took over sponsorship of the Two Thousand Guineas and One Thousand Guineas but prize money for both was down on the year before, the first prize for the Two Thousand Guineas £198,695, compared to £227,080 the previous year. With Dream Ahead’s preparation held up by the dry spring at Newmarket, the main opposition to Frankel, who looked immaculate in the paddock, seemed likely to come from the two Irish-trained challengers, Roderic O’Connor and another Group 1-winning two-year-old Pathfork, who had won Ireland’s premier juvenile event the National Stakes at the Curragh. They were joint second favourites at 8/1, with the Racing Post Trophy winner Casamento (transferred to Godolphin after winning that race) next at 11/1. Godolphin’s challenge also included the Champagne Stakes winner Saamidd, who had run disappointingly behind Frankel in the Dewhurst and was sent off at 22/1 on Guineas day, one of only four others in the line-up who started at shorter than 66/1, the remaining trio being the Tattersalls Millions winner Fury (12/1), the clear-cut Craven Stakes winner Native Khan (16/1) and the dual listed winner on the all-weather Dubawi Gold (33/1).

Frankel’s trainer said before the Two Thousand Guineas that he wanted the race to be run at a ‘decent, sensible pace’ and that Frankel ‘could make the running if he has to,’ although the Free Handicap runner-up Rerouted, in the same owner-ship but a different stable, was in the Guineas field and presumed to be there in a pacemaking role. In the event, Rerouted would have had to have been champion sprinter material to have performed the job. Frankel has a ground-devouring stride when allowed to use himself and his jockey Tom Queally quickly signalled his intention not to mess about, letting Frankel bowl along from the start. Frankel’s tendency to fight his rider had been a feature of his two-year-old races and, when let loose in the Guineas, he really took the bit between his teeth and seemed at first to be running away. He was quickly out clear, burning up the Rowley Mile at a gallop that, while seemingly comfortable for him once Queally got him to settle, was too strong for his rivals to cope with.

2000 Guineas © Trevor JonesFrankel took about forty-seven and a half seconds to reach halfway, setting the sort of pace more likely to be seen in a top sprint than in a championship race over a mile (although not on the same part of the course, he actually covered the first five furlongs in a time over a second inside the winner’s time in the Palace House Stakes thirty-five minutes later). Provision had been made in the original Two Thousand Guineas conditions for the runners to carry speed sensing equipment, but plans to reintroduce sectional timing for the races in the new British Champions’ Series, which got under way with the Two Thousand Guineas, did not come to fruition until British Champions’ Day itself at Ascot in October, the climax to the series.

The Two Thousand Guineas has had sectional timing before, however, and Frankel’s time to halfway was significantly faster than in earlier editions for which electronic sectionals were recorded, including some run under conditions that were more favourable for fast times (the latest Guineas was run into a stiff headwind).

Frankel was at least ten lengths clear at halfway and almost everything else in the field was under pressure, the other Group 1 winners Roderic O’Connor, Pathfork and Casamento among those trying in earnest to give chase (all three eventually paid the price and finished out on their feet down the field). Understandably, considering the prevailing headwind and the fact that he had nothing to race with, Frankel could not keep up the same pace all the way and the hand-timed sectionals for his last three furlongs were his slowest of the race, apart from the opening furlong from a standing start. Queally glanced back between his legs three furlongs out but, if he was having thoughts that Frankel might have gone off too fast, he would have been reassured to see how far in front he was.

The Two Thousand Guineas had been turned into a procession and there wasn’t the slightest threat to him. Applause began in the stands as Frankel reached the Bushes, just over two furlongs from home, and he came home unchallenged, though Queally had to get to work on him in the final furlong. It was only late in the race, though, that the placed horses began to make inroads into Frankel’s substantial lead. After looking for so long as if he would win by a record margin, he eventually won by six lengths—the second longest official margin of victory in the history of the race (behind Tudor Minstrel’s eight)—chased home by Dubawi Gold who had been dropped out last and finally made his move as most of the others had run their race; Native Khan was only half a length behind Dubawi Gold in third, doing easily the best of those who raced close up in the main body of the field. There was an astonishing eleven lengths further back to the fourth, rank outsider Slim Shadey who was never in the hunt, with fifth-placed Fury the only other to finish within twenty lengths of Frankel. Pathfork was twenty-six lengths behind Frankel in seventh, with Casamento and Roderic O’Connor beaten over thirty-five lengths into tenth and eleventh. There was nearly a furlong between Frankel and the last horse, the strung-out field having more in common with the finish of a top steeplechase than a top Flat race, especially one over a mile on good to firm going.

Frankel’s performance was simply stunning and there is not the slightest doubt that he was even better than the bare form on the day. Taking into account all the circumstances, not least how much energy Frankel must have used up in the first half of the race, the Two Thousand Guineas put Frankel on the threshold of being one of the very best Flat racehorses in Timeform’s long experience, already almost up there with Tudor Minstrel and Brigadier Gerard, Two Thousand Guineas winners themselves who stand at the top of the list of great milers. The form assessment of Frankel’s Guineas was backed up by an outstanding final time which, even on the bare result, produced the fastest timefigure of the twenty-first century so far, over any distance, 1.43 fast (equivalent to a timerating of 136). Frankel’s timefigure was the best recorded in the Two Thousand Guineas itself since El Gran Senor’s 1.54 fast (139) in 1984. The 2011 Two Thousand Guineas was, in so many ways, an epochal event in the history of Flat-racing in Britain and a race that will be talked about for years.

Frankel gave his trainer Henry Cecil—who was knighted later in the year for services to racing—his twenty-fifth British classic success, Frankel being his third winner of the Two Thousand Guineas. Cecil’s first two victories came in the ‘seventies with Bolkonski and Wollow, both of whom, like Frankel, had a preparatory race before Newmarket. Bolkonski never raced beyond a mile, following up his Guineas win (over Grundy) in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood before being retired after a defeat in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot; Wollow went on to Epsom after his Guineas win and met his first defeat when only fifth in the Derby, before then winning the Eclipse (awarded the race after the winner Trepan failed a drugs test), the Sussex Stakes and the Benson & Hedges (International as it is now), ending his career when never in the hunt in the Champion Stakes. Where Frankel was going to appear next became the subject of intense interest, and no little debate in the media and the letters column of the Racing Post, though, in truth, his extraordinary display in the Guineas almost certainly put paid straight away to any thoughts of a Derby bid. In comparing Frankel as a two-year-old with his previous champions, Cecil tended to speak mostly of Wollow who also ended an unbeaten four-race juvenile campaign with a win in the Dewhurst before being the last horse before Frankel to complete the Greenham-Guineas double. Frankel’s three-year-old programme, however, closely replicated that of Bolkonski.

St James's Palace Stakes © Trevor JonesFrankel appeared next at Royal Ascot on a glorious opening day that also featured a much anticipated renewal of the Queen Anne Stakes in which the previous year’s St James’s Palace winner Canford Cliffs defeated the record-breaking French mare Goldikova to take his fifth Group 1 in succession. Frankel took the stage just over an hour after Canford Cliffs and was sent off at 100/30-on against eight opponents in the St James’s Palace Stakes. Tudor Minstrel (an easy winner returned to a mile after his Derby fiasco) and Brigadier Gerard are also on the winning roll of the St James’s Palace. Brigadier Gerard nearly lost his unbeaten record in the race, getting up in the last strides on going that was like a quagmire, and Frankel arguably had something of a close shave too. He made heavy weather of the closing stages after being in a clear lead and was run to three quarters of a length by the 20/1-shot Zoffany, who had won five of his seven starts at two and was a one-time ante-post favourite for the Two Thousand Guineas before Frankel arrived on the scene.

Rerouted was in the field again in the St James’s Palace and made the running this time, with Frankel held up, actually settling well and belying concerns beforehand that he might pull hard. The seeds of the first manifestation of vulnerability in Frankel were sown when his rider elected to make his move very early, on the rising stretch after the Old Mile course has joined the round course in Swinley Bottom. Switching Frankel to the outside in the middle of the race, from a position on the rails, Queally shook him up and sent him after his pacemaker, whom he soon reeled in to take over in the lead some way before the home turn. Displaying breathtaking acceleration, Frankel quickly opened up a clear gap on the rest of the field and held an advantage of five or six lengths as he straightened out to begin the relatively short run-in.

The lead had been eroded to four lengths entering the final furlong and Frankel was seemingly tiring as he lasted home. Zoffany finished strongly, after being held up last for a long way, with Excelebration coming a further length and a half behind him in third. There was a head back to 50/1-shot Neebras, while Dream Ahead came only fifth on his belated return and Dubawi Gold a disappointing sixth. Queally claimed afterwards that Frankel had idled in front, a view also expressed by the trainer in post-race interviews. Whether Frankel tired, or whether he idled, there was no mistaking the look of relief on the faces of the horse’s connections—or the sombreness of their private post-race inquest in the unsaddling enclosure—and there was little doubt that Queally had kicked too soon on Frankel, whose performance was nowhere near the standard of that in the Two Thousand Guineas. ‘Let’s face it, the race went wrong,’ said Cecil in a subsequent interview. ‘That’s all there is to it and when he runs again hopefully the race will go right.’

A meeting with Canford Cliffs in the Qipco Sussex Stakes was next for Frankel but, straight after the Queen Anne and St James’s Palace, opinion was divided over which of the pair should be favourite, Coral going 2/1-on Frankel and 6/4 Canford Cliffs, while Ladbrokes were 11/8-on Canford Cliffs and evens Frankel, and Hills 11/10 the pair. The eagerly-anticipated ‘Duel on the Downs’ pitched the dominant three-year-old miler against the dominant older miler in a head-to-head to decide ‘the title’. The clash was promoted to the wider public in a comparable way to similar contests in more popular sports. Unfortunately, only a minority of head-to-heads between sporting heavyweights live up to the seemingly general expectation of a closely-fought battle and a tight finish. Frankel v Canford Cliffs—the pair 13/8-on and 7/4 respectively on the day—was emphatically one of those that failed to follow the script. It wasn’t even close. The policy of having a potential pacemaker in the field for Frankel was temporarily ditched, although his trainer made it clear that there would again be one if his next race turned out to be the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, because that race was being switched from the traditional round course to Ascot’s straight mile and ‘it may be asking an awful lot for Frankel to make all his own running if he has to’ (Cecil had said after the Two Thousand Guineas that such strong forcing tactics would not be used again).

Sussex Stakes © Trevor JonesOnly four lined up for the Sussex at Goodwood and Frankel was forced into making his own running. After a little hesitation among the jockeys in the very early stages, Frankel went on and, with Queally judging the pace perfectly and gradually stepping up the gallop, Canford Cliffs—who had won five Group 1s in a row remember—looked in trouble even before Frankel produced an instant and most decisive turn of foot when given the office inside the two-furlong marker. Feeling the whip only once, Frankel streaked clear to win by five lengths, a winning margin equalled in the race in the last forty years only by Brigadier Gerard and Kris.

Canford Cliffs hung left, markedly so, under strong pressure but there was still a further two and a half lengths back to third-placed Rio de La Plata, with the smart French-trained challenger Rajsaman the same distance away. Canford Cliffs was far from discredited on form but he certainly did not run to his absolute peak and a scan a week later revealed a shadow on the joint running into his near-fore pastern, an injury put forward to explain why he hung so badly at Goodwood (although he had done so before, in the Greenham as a three-year-old). Veterinary opinion was that Canford Cliffs might sustain a fracture if he kept on racing and he was retired. The exemplary Frankel gave his trainer a record sixth Sussex Stakes winner, following Bolkonski, Wollow, Kris, Distant View and Ali-Royal, all except the last-named successful in the race as three-year-olds (the weight-for-age allowance in the Sussex is one of the topics discussed in the essay on Canford Cliffs).

The Sussex Stakes confirmed Frankel’s exceptional status—it was his second performance worth a Timeform rating over 140—and his more settled demeanour in the race itself increased the likelihood that he would eventually go on to prove himself just as effective at around a mile and a quarter. There had been talk that he might take in the Eclipse before (or instead of) running in the Sussex, and there was further discussion after Goodwood about possibly stepping him up to around a mile and a quarter in the Juddmonte International at York in August. Frankel was entered for both the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over a mile and the Champion Stakes over a mile and a quarter at the newly-instituted British Champions’ Day. Brigadier Gerard won both those races as a three-year-old (and completed the double again at four) but the decision to run them on the same day—at Ascot in mid-October—meant that Frankel was denied the chance to emulate one of the great horses with whom he was by now being widely compared.

The change arose from the rearrangement of four weeks of racing in the autumn to enable the sport to ‘move with the times’ by staging a new climax to the season. Whatever the pros and cons of British Champions’ Day, the dismantling of Ascot’s September meeting left a gap of thirteen weeks without a Group 1 mile race in Britain—between the Sussex and the Queen Elizabeth II—a gap that is too long. The likes of Excelebration, Rio de La Plata and Dubawi Gold were rerouted to the Prix du Moulin, which had been moved from early-September to Longchamp’s Arc trials day in the middle of the month once it was known that the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes was going to be in October instead of in its traditional September slot.

Once Frankel’s connections had decided against running him in the International at York—a race in which they had first and second with Twice Over and Midday—there was no realistic prospect of his running again in Britain until British Champions’ Day. From the last week in July until the middle of October, the new wonder horse, British racing’s biggest box office attraction, wasn’t seen on a racecourse. On paper, there was a mile race in the British Champions’ Series between the Sussex and the Queen Elizabeth II and it was run on the same weekend that used to feature the Queen Elizabeth II. That race, the Group 2 Joel Stakes at Newmarket with a first prize of £56,710, attracted seven runners, of which only Poet’s Voice (who had regressed since winning the Queen Elizabeth II twelve months earlier) had won a Group 1.

Frankel would probably have expended no more energy to win it than he did on the Newmarket gallops that same morning when his trainer reported to the invited media that Frankel was on course for the Queen Elizabeth II—‘He has had quite a long rest and I started on him early … getting a horse ready for a race is like trying to catch a train, you don’t want to end up running for the train … there is nothing worse than finding you are a gallop short, though Frankel is an active horse who doesn’t take much getting ready.’ Cecil also reported that Frankel was continuing to ‘grow up mentally’ which made him an easier horse to train and to ride than in the first part of his career.

Sir Henry Cecil described the £3m programme on British Champions’ Day as ‘probably one of the best things that has ever come into racing’, though, ironically (given that connections chose to run Frankel in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes), there was some concern beforehand that the day’s principal feature, the Qipco Champion Stakes, which had a £737,230 first prize, and overtook the Derby as Britain’s most valuable race, might not attract the best horses. In the end, with seven Group 1 winners in the line-up, the Champion was won by a horse who had not been successful before at the top level, French-trained Cirrus des Aigles, in the field only because, as a gelding, he was barred from the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The placed horses So You Think and Snow Fairy both came on to Ascot after finishing in the frame in the Arc two weeks earlier.

QEII Stakes © Trevor JonesFrankel was the centre of attention on Champions’ Day for the second year running, having stolen the limelight twelve months earlier from the older horses when winning the Dewhurst—a race transferred in the latest season to a new Future Champions’ Day card at Newmarket which was staged the previous weekend. Frankel had seven opponents in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes Sponsored By Qipco (a two-year sponsorship deal for the series negotiated with the Qatari-based private investment company was deemed ‘commercially confidential’ and no financial details were released).

Three-year-olds have almost as impressive a record in the Queen Elizabeth II—twenty-five winners in the previous forty years—as they have in the Sussex and, with no Canford Cliffs or Goldikova to oppose them, the classic generation dominated the betting on the latest running. Frankel started at 11/4-on with Excelebration, who had won the Moulin, at 6/1 and the Coronation Stakes winner Immortal Verse, who had won the Jacques le Marois from Goldikova, at 7/1. The Hannon-trained pair, four-year-old Dick Turpin and Dubawi Gold, came next, ahead of Poet’s Voice and Side Glance, with Frankel’s half-brother and pacemaker Bullet Train the rank outsider.

The four three-year-olds filled the first four places, Frankel producing another 140-plus performance to win by four lengths from Excelebration. Excelebration is a top-class miler whose only defeats during the season came in races won by Frankel and he had Immortal Verse a further three and a half lengths away in third, just ahead of fourth-placed Dubawi Gold. Frankel never looked in any trouble, settling well and quickening to take over from Bullet Train two furlongs out before drawing away, still keeping on strongly pushed out almost to the line.

The principals in the Queen Elizabeth II did not start to race in earnest until around halfway and the overall time was nothing out of the ordinary. Frankel’s winning margin wasn’t a record either—Brigadier Gerard (in his second appearance in the race), Bahri (under an inspired ride on a track that had been unevenly watered) and Dubai Millennium all won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes by six lengths, with Warning a five-length winner, in the forty years since Brigadier Gerard won it as a three-year-old by eight lengths (from that year’s Jacques le Marois winner). Reform won by ten lengths four years before that.

The origins of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, which was first run in 1955, are to be found back in Tudor Minstrel’s day, in the Knight’s Royal Stakes over the Ascot mile. That race was the last of Tudor Minstrel’s career and it was framed with the specific object of settling the much discussed question of the day about which was the better horse, Tudor Minstrel or the four-year-old The Bug who had proved himself one of the fastest sprinters for years (The Bug, looking for his eleventh successive victory, ran unaccountably badly in the Knight’s Royal, also his last race). Frankel’s performance in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes—Europe’s richest mile race (£567,100 to the winner)—needed no embellishment. ‘We were not trying to catch pigeons,’ his trainer said afterwards, ‘we were just trying to win the race nicely.’ A victory by four lengths and three and a half from two very good Group 1-winning milers was more than enough to consolidate Frankel’s reputation as a phenomenon.

Devotees of the stopwatch pored over the electronic sectional timing data produced for the Champions’ Day programme but the sectionals were no more significant in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes than the overall time for the race had been. Clutching at straws, the Racing Post’s analyst drew attention to the fact that Frankel’s time for the last furlong of 12.75sec was ‘the only sub-13sec time for the closing furlong.’ It was perhaps more significant that Frankel was actually the fastest horse in the Queen Elizabeth II in three separate furlongs of the race, not just in the last one, the time for which was not exceptional in the overall context of the day (seven horses completed the last furlong in under 13sec in both the Champion and the Fillies’ and Mares’ Stakes, while no fewer than three did so in the stayers’ championship, the Long Distance Cup, in which the winner of Pontefract’s Phil Bull Trophy, Colour Vision, actually bettered Frankel’s time!).

For the first British Champions’ Series to have Frankel was a gift from the gods for the organisers. His four wins in the thirty-five-race series provided four major focal points, as well as helping to secure the trainers’ and jockeys’ titles over the series for Sir Henry Cecil (seven wins in all) and Tom Queally (six wins, partnering all of the Cecil-trained winners except Twice Over in the International at York).

The strong, well-made Frankel, a fluent mover, sometimes spoils his appearance by sweating between his legs in the preliminaries, something that can be a worrying sign, though it has not proved detrimental to Frankel. He usually takes the eye, though he was beginning to go in his coat by Champions’ Day, which explains the absence of the traditional posed portrait that normally accompanies the essays on the top horses in these annuals. The Breeders’ Cup was not on Frankel’s agenda in the latest season—he has yet to race outside Britain—but, all being well, the Breeders’ Cup Classic on dirt will be his finale as a four-year-old.

As well as taking his name from a legendary American trainer, Frankel has connections to the notable American owner/breeder John Hay Whitney who, for all his success in America, also maintained a family tradition of having horses in Europe. Whitney was the American ambassador to the United Kingdom in the late-’fifties and early-’sixties and had most of his horses in Europe with Jeremy Tree, who was also Khalid Abdulla’s first trainer (the Tree-trained, Lester Piggott-ridden Charming Native was the first winner to carry the Abdulla colours, at Windsor in 1979, the year before Tree gave the founder of Juddmonte his first classic winner when Known Fact won the Two Thousand Guineas on the disqualification of Nureyev). Tree was influential in Abdulla’s private purchase of much of the British-based stock of John Hay Whitney in the ‘eighties. The batch included Rockfest, Frankel’s great grandam, and Peace, the dam of Whitney’s Coronation Cup winner Quiet Fling and Cambridgeshire winner Intermission, the last-named also becoming a Juddmonte broodmare after being bought at auction. Both Rockfest and Peace proved significant foundation mares at Juddmonte.

Rockfest, sired by Whitney’s Belmont Stakes winner Stage Door Johnny, was a useful racemare, successful at seven furlongs and a mile as a two-year-old, and later stayed a mile and a half, and she bred a Lancashire Oaks winner for Abdulla in Rainbow Lake, the grandam of Frankel. Rainbow Lake was trained by Cecil but she became disappointing, though she too has done well at stud and is still going strongly at Juddmonte. Frankel’s dam Kind turned out to be a sprinter but she was by Danehill and is not typical of the offspring of Rainbow Lake, most of whom have stayed at least a mile and a half, the pick of her winners being the Arlington Million, Great Voltigeur and Tattersalls Gold Cup winner Powerscourt—a son of Sadler’s Wells—who stayed well enough to finish third in the Irish St Leger. Powerscourt was one of the first foals bred under a continuing arrangement whereby a number of Juddmonte mares visit the top Coolmore stallions and the two operations share the offspring. Frankel was bred under the same arrangement, Juddmonte having first call the year he was foaled.

Four of Kind’s offspring will be in training at Warren Place in the next season, Bullet Train (by Sadler’s Wells), who won the 2010 Lingfield Derby Trial, Frankel and Frankel’s brother Noble Mission (a promising second on his only start at two) being joined by a home-bred son of Oasis Dream. Kind had a filly foal at foot by Oasis Dream in 2011 when she visited Frankel’s sire Galileo again (a fourth visit is booked for 2012).

Frankel, incidentally, was one of eight individual Group 1 winners in Europe in the latest season that were bred by Juddmonte (Announce, Emulous, Midday, Mutual Trust, Prohibit, Timepiece and Twice Over were the others). Khalid Abdulla was leading owner in Britain for the second year running and the third time in all, his first three prize-money earnings of £3,318,191 just short of his total the previous year; the Abdulla colours were carried to victory in seven of Britain’s thirty-two Group 1s, one fewer than in 2010.

Frankel’s trainer is among those who believe that the unbeaten colt can be even better as a four-year-old. ‘I can’t go back to Tudor Minstrel, but Frankel is the best I have seen in my lifetime. I don’t think a lot of people would have seen better and, as time goes by, he will show everyone what he really is. It’s up to people watching to make the decision about how he compares with the best there’s been, it’s up to me to get him there.’ Frankel is under round-the-clock CCTV surveillance at Warren Place, and there is even a monitor in the trainer’s bedroom. The ‘hot-blooded’ Frankel, who will stay a mile and a quarter and acts on soft going and good to firm, seems to cause his trainer fewer sleepless nights now than he used to do in his earlier days, and it is to be hoped the pair enjoy as smooth a run in 2012 as they did through most of the latest season.

Frankel is set to start his four-year-old campaign over a mile in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury, with the Eclipse mentioned as his likely starting point over a mile and a quarter. Both those races were among the seven won by Brigadier Gerard as a four-year-old when he also suffered his only defeat—by the Derby winner Roberto at York in the race now run as the International. Brigadier Gerard was unbeaten in ten races by the end of his second season, one more than Frankel. Brigadier Gerard’s rating went up from 141 to 144 after his career changed gear at four when he put up top-class performances at a mile, a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half. In addition to the Lockinge and the Eclipse, he won the Westbury Stakes over a mile and a quarter at Sandown, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot (by five lengths from the subsequent Irish Derby winner Steel Pulse), the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (by six lengths from Sparkler, one of the leading milers of the day) and the Champion Stakes. Frankel will probably have to do something even more spectacular if he is to establish himself as the best there has ever been.

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Frankel Facts

Some Newmarket gallop watchers reported that Frankel outpaced the Cambridge to Newmarket train during one of his workouts in March 2011.