Peerless Frankel crushes his rivals to reign supreme at York
The horse of a lifetime has become the horse of all time. Thirty thousand souls had gathered here on Knavesmire to watch the glorious Frankel cement his legend with a 13th straight win, and a finish of such breathtaking speed that it took jockey Tom Queally another half-a-mile to pull him up.
This astonishing four year-old had just eclipsed the field by seven lengths in the Juddmonte International Stakes, but he wanted to keep going, to keep extending his supremacy stride by majestic stride.
We have seen nothing like this. Frankel is a horse of such stratospheric distinction that he is winning Flat races by National Hunt margins. Here he relegated even St Nicholas Abbey, a two-time winner of the Coronation Cup at Epsom, to a distant also-ran.
Bald statistics tell only a fraction of the tale: yes, this invincible colt swept past Rock of Gibraltar’s record with an eighth consecutive Group One victory, but he went further, beyond Sea Bird and Brigadier Gerard as a contender to be anointed the finest horse that ever lived. The aficionados were whispering last night that he would edge out even the great Nijinsky in a photo-finish.
But photo-finishes are not Frankel’s speciality. Instead, this equine equivalent of Usain Bolt is trained for days like these, when he can streak away with the type of crushing dominance that leaves the punters slack-jawed in wonder. Frankel was entering unchartered territory in his step up to a mile and a quarter, but no one need have worried. Breaking slowly from the starting stalls, he drew level with St Nicholas Abbey at the two-furlong pole before unleashing a devastating late surge to secure his place in history.
No longer the fiery, mercurial youngster, Frankel is now a fully-matured racehorse and the results are captivating to behold. Where once he terrified his rivals through raw power, this time he vanquished them by virtue of a consummately-settled display. Having hared away from his pursuers in the final straight, he was not perturbed in the slightest as he paraded in front of the grandstands to a hero’s reception, stopping at last to imbibe his well-deserved bucket of water.
Sometimes, but rarely, sporting narratives knit together with this kind of exquisite seamlessness. Where Frankel needed to make yet another emphatic statement to enhance his own once-in-a-generation status, he also had to win to satisfy for those seeking a powerful human dimension to the story of a magnificent animal. This he did, as he delivered his 13th straight triumph in front of Sir Henry Cecil.
The trainer, 69, has been battling cancer and had not been spotted near a racecourse for weeks, but he was here, mercifully, to witness the latest coronation of his pride and joy. Cecil’s face was painfully drawn and his voice sounded ravaged as a consequence of recent chemotherapy, but his satisfaction was self-evident.
This Wednesday in high summer was Frankel’s moment of reckoning. His presence had drawn the largest ever opening-day crowd at the York Ebor meeting, and thousands massed, Derby-style, close to the start as he entered the stalls.
There are not many horses who can command a police escort, and still fewer who can inspire a parody Twitter account, but Frankel is the form of phenomenon to transcend racing. He is a totem, a singularity, whose races even the most casual spectators will stop to savour.
Whether you had paid £8 for admittance or the thick end of £200 for a prime spot by the finish, this was a privilege to see. Some fans had even arrived wearing ensembles of green and pink to reflect the silks of Frankel’s owner, Khalid Abdullah. None were disappointed as Frankel, ridden with superb patience by Queally, took up an initial berth at the back of the pack before barrelling through in the blink of an eye.
His response as he loped around York’s left hand curve and then shifted up through the gears was extraordinary. Many had wondered aloud about how he would cope with this transition from a mile to 10 furlongs, but on this evidence he could take the rest at any distance.
The carpet of people on the near side of the track rose as one, abandoning picnics and deckchairs, to acclaim this remarkable force of nature. The best racehorse in the world, they appreciated, had just grown even better.
Perhaps the only sadness in the air sprang from the idea that we would only, in all probability, see him race once more.
There was conjecture late on Wednesday that Frankel could yet be entered for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in October, but the likelihood is still that he will be given his final flourish on British Champions Day three weeks later. So, just one hurrah is left for us to bid Frankel adieu, before he is sent to stud.
Heaven knows, in light of yesterday’s exhibition, what price he or his progeny could fetch.
It fell to Teddy Grimthorpe, Abdullah’s long-time racing manager, to encapsulate the day. “For Henry and the team to bring Frankel to York, in front of a brilliant crowd, is absolutely fantastic,” he said. “Then for the horse to perform like he did — it’s a dream, isn’t it? The way he just comes here and does it is simply wonderful. It’s hard to believe. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Neither, indeed, have any of us.
Oliver Brown, The Telegraph
23 August 2012