Frankel wins Champion Stakes at Ascot and will be retired unbeaten
By the time his horsebox pulled away from Ascot on Saturday evening, Frankel was officially an ex-racehorse.
Within a few months, the taught frame that carried him to 14 straight victories will give way to the more generous girth of a stallion and, physically at least, the transition will be complete. In the memory of anyone who saw him win his final start here, however, he will always be Frankel the four-year-old, the supreme athlete who proved to be unbeatable from his first race to his last.
It was not a case of Frankel first and the rest nowhere, as his four previous victories this season had been, but even after a sluggish start his success in the Qipco Champion Stakes, Britain's richest race, was never in any real doubt. The only sense of concern in the early stages came from Ian Mongan, on Frankel's half-brother and pacemaker, Bullet Train, as he tried to establish where Frankel was and how fast he needed to go. Tom Queally, Frankel's jockey, soon had him settled and travelling as well as could be expected though the first half-mile, on the heaviest ground he had ever encountered.
Once they reached the straight, where the ground was a little less demanding, it was clear that Frankel was travelling best and he swept past Cirrus Des Aigles, last year's winner of the race, just over a furlong out. He did not power clear, but there was no need to try and he was a very comfortable one-and-three-quarter lengths clear of Cirrus Des Aigles at the line, with Nathaniel, a King George and Eclipse winner, back in third.
The second and third were just two out of the 23 individual Group One winners, of 52 Group One races, to have finished behind Frankel over the course of his career. Another of those, Excelebration, had already underlined the overwhelming strength of Frankel's form earlier in the afternoon with an emphatic three-length success in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and, as Sir Henry Cecil, Frankel's trainer, said: "I can't believe that in the history of racing there has ever been a better racehorse."
Cecil, who has been fighting cancer for six years, struggles to speak at present as the result of chemotherapy treatment, but the reaction of the 32,000 spectators spoke loudly of their respect and affection for the trainer and his extraordinary horse. Frankel is expected to wind down at Warren Place in Newmarket over the next few days, before the short trip to his new home at Prince Khalid Abdulla's Banstead Manor Stud.
Prince Khalid, Frankel's owner, confirmed within a quarter of an hour of the race that the colt would move into the breeding side of his operation. "Today was important because it was his last race," Abdulla said. "I knew he was going to win beforehand and I think that he would have been further in front of the other horses if it hadn't been for the ground."
Queally, Frankel's partner though his career, spoke of their "amazing journey" over the last three seasons. "We lost a length at the start, but a length is nothing to him," Queally said. "It's fair to say that he is better on better ground, but the 4x4 kicked in and he is everything you could imagine in a horse. Under the circumstances, I would say that it was up there with his best performances.
"Frankel is the biggest chapter in my life and it's great that it has happened. Sir Henry has had some great jockeys and for me to be there at that time when the horse of a lifetime comes along is just amazing. There is pressure, but there is pressure in all walks of life and I gladly take it all on board.
"It is unusual for a Flat [racing] crowd to get behind a horse. You come in and you say to yourself, 'Wow.' I went down an extra 100 yards in front of the stands [after the race] to let the crowd soak it all in and also so I could have another 20 seconds on his back."
As so often in his career, Frankel was all but unbackable, setting off as an odds-on favourite for the 13th time in his 14-race career. This time, he was a 2-11 chance, despite concerns about the heavy ground that had prompted Teddy Grimthorpe, Abdulla's racing manager, to walk the course on Saturday morning before declaring Frankel a definite runner. The horse's first start, at Newmarket in 2010 when Nathaniel was the runner-up, is the only time Frankel has started at odds-against, and even then he was still favourite at 7-4.
"I think [retirement] is the correct decision," Grimthorpe said. "He was a champion at two, three and four and if you haven't made your mind up about him now, you never will.
"Henry's re-emergence as a trainer is not just one of the greatest stories in sport, but one of the all-time great stories generally. He has come back from the Conference to the Champions' League and he is a master of his profession. He is very determined and his handling of this horse is masterly, as we saw today."
Frankel's retirement means that racing now returns to the search for the next great star, though it might be 50 years before another horse achieves as much. His brilliance has raised Flat racing's profile, though, and could not have come at a better time for Champions Day, which was a sellout, 32,48 were here, at only the second time of asking.
In four years' time, Frankel's first crop of foals will arrive on the racecourse and, if there are spectators in the stands who found racing through Frankel, his legacy will endure on both sides of the running rail.
Greg Wood, The Guardian
20 October 2012