Racehorses of 2012

FRANKEL 4 b.c. (Feb 11) Galileo (IRE) 134 - Kind (IRE) 112 Danehill (USA) 126)                                         147

According to legend, when Alexander the Great saw the breadth of his domain he wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. By the time of Alexander's death at the age of thirty-two, his empire stretched from Greece, through what is now Turkey, into the Middle East and south to Egypt, and further east through Persia to the borders of India. Alexander's armies did not suffer a single defeat and his empire was the biggest ever known up to that time, though, as those who came after him discovered, there were indeed more worlds to conquer. Horizons are limited only by men's imagination and, as the annals of sport show, for example, there are no fixed boundaries to human achievement. Ever—the biggest ever, the best ever—is not really a word to use in a world in which records and milestones come along all the time. But for Frankel, the best racehorse of his generation in each of the three seasons that he raced (the first in Britain since the sprinter Abernant to be a champion at two, three and four), the description `best ever' may well turn out to be justified. Many of the current generation of British racegoers will be lucky to see another as good.

Frankel was invincible, unbeaten in fourteen races before most of which the speculation was not about whether he was going to win, but by how far, and how impressively he was going to do so. The answer was usually: by a comfortable margin, like a chainsaw going through balsa wood. In the latest season, he earned the highest rating ever awarded to a horse in Racehorses, supplanting the 145 achieved by the majestic 1965 Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Sea-Bird, who recorded two of the most stunning performances in racing history in those races, his victory in the Arc a phenomenal one which became widely regarded as being at the limit of what the thoroughbred can achieve. In the end, Frankel was not given so expansive an examination as a four-year-old as the great Brigadier Gerard, another of the highest-rated champions of the Racehorses era. But the quality of Frankel's best performances, in Timeform's view at least, had the edge on the pick of Brigadier Gerard's and also surpassed the best form shown by Tudor Minstrel whose rating of 144, achieved in 1947, the first year for which Timeform ratings were published, bracketed him with Brigadier Gerard, that pair, along with Sea-Bird, making up the three best performers on the Flat in Timeform's experience before Frankel came along.

Lockinge Stakes © Trevor JonesFrankel's performances justified all the superlatives used about them but, in line with Thomas Fuller's famous observation `there is no banquet but some dislike something in it,' some felt that Frankel was not given a full opportunity to be tested to the limit of his potential. The Greek philosopher Diogenes, the inventor of cynicism, dared to mock Alexander the Great who looked down on him when he was relaxing in his barrel and said `Ask me for anything you want.' Alexander received the reply `Stop blocking my sunlight.' If there were modern cynics who did not stand quite so much in awe of Frankel's achievements as they were expected to, it was perhaps because the racing world is a more exciting place than it was in Sea-Bird's and Brigadier Gerard's day and today's champions have more chances to prove themselves on the global stage. Frankel's horizons did not stretch much beyond his own doorstep, the 170-mile journey from Newmarket to York being the longest he undertook.

In the world of modern communications—Facebook is said to be approaching a billion active users—Frankel's connections could have been forgiven for thinking that his achievements were being more widely appreciated. However, events always feel bigger when they take place on your own shores. Black Caviar's connections saw her worldwide popularity soar as a result of her 10,500-mile journey from Australia to take on the best of Britain's sprinters at Royal Ascot, while the Japanese triple crown winner Orfevre was a challenger for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the richest race in Europe, in a quest for international prestige. Neither the Arc nor the Breeders' Cup, the two most prestigious occasions in the world's autumn programme, was on the agenda for Frankel. Frankel's trainer Sir Henry Cecil and his horses tend not to venture abroad very often. The Arc is a race Cecil has never won (Ardross was narrowly beaten) while his profile in North America was memorably illustrated on a rare Breeders' Cup visit in the 'nineties when an American TV journalist began an interview with the ten-times champion by asking him how he spelt his name, followed by `Have you been training long?'

Cecil's masterly handling of Frankel deserves nothing but praise, especially in the second half of the latest season when he was fighting the all-too-evidently debilitating effects of the treatment for the stomach cancer he has had for the last six years. Watching him at York and Ascot it was clear that making the journey to Longchamp, let alone Santa Anita, might well have been a strain, something which would have made it extremely difficult for connections to change their long-term plans for a purely domestic campaign for Frankel, even if they had wanted to. Their decision, though, meant that the old showbusiness saying `always leave them wanting more' certainly applied to Frankel at the time of his retirement, though some of his supporters might claim that asking for more from Frankel—who had already recorded the year's five best individual performances—would have been asking the near-impossible.

Frankel was rated 143 at the end of his brilliant three-year-old campaign in which his victories included the Two Thousand Guineas by the widest margin for sixty-five years—giving a performance that made the hairs stand up on the back of the neck—and the Sussex Stakes in which he recorded the widest winning margin for thirty-three. Keeping a classic winner in training at four does not always meet with the success it deserves—very few top three-year-olds are capable of making more than the normal improvement from three to four as measured by the weight-for-age scale—but such was the impression created by Frankel that there seemed to be every prospect that he would progress again and elevate himself to the top of the all-time rankings. Eight other three-year-olds in the now-extensive period since the end of World War II had achieved a Timeform rating of 140 or higher but only two of them had remained in training. Sea-Bird, Tudor Minstrel, the particularly versatile pair Dancing Brave and Sea The Stars, and Shergar and Vaguely Noble were all retired, with only Brigadier Gerard and Mill Reef, both rated 141, continuing their racing careers as four-year-olds. Brigadier Gerard's rating went up to 144 after his career changed gear at four when he recorded top-class performances at a mile (Lockinge, Queen Elizabeth II Stakes), a mile and a quarter (Westbury Stakes, Prince of Wales's Stakes, Eclipse and Champion Stakes) and a mile and a half (the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes). Mill Reef's rating remained unchanged at four after he won both his races—including the Prix Ganay by ten lengths—before breaking a leg on the gallops.

Of the four other older horses rated at 140 or more by Timeform, Abernant went up from 138 at three to 142 at four, Ribot from 133 to 142, Dubai Millennium from 132 to 140 and Harbinger from 118 to 140. Italian-trained Ribot was the only one of the twelve three-year-olds and four-year-olds who achieved a Timeform rating of 140 or more before Frankel to end his racing career undefeated, recording sixteen straight victories including the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe twice (by three lengths and by six) and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (by five). Brigadier Gerard won his first fifteen races and went on to end his career with seventeen wins from eighteen starts, recording five separate performances that were rated at 140 or higher on the Timeform scale, all of them, incidentally, at a mile, the Two Thousand Guineas (which he won from Mill Reef, the only time they met), brilliant victories in the Sussex (by five lengths), the Goodwood Mile (by ten) and successive editions of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (by eight lengths and then by six). Like Brigadier Gerard, Frankel recorded performance after performance that emphasised his outstanding merit. His first 140 (or higher) performance came in the Two Thousand Guineas, after which he was rated 142; he ran to the same figure in his first Sussex Stakes and 143 in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, his final race as a three-year-old. Frankel put up four more performances over 140 in the latest season in the Lockinge, the Queen Anne, the Sussex and the International.

Lockinge Stakes © Trevor JonesFrankel reappeared at Newbury in May for the JLT Lockinge Stakes after suffering an injury scare when he struck into himself on the gallops a month before the race (BBC TV jumped the gun and announced his retirement during its Grand National coverage). A scan revealed, however, that Frankel had not damaged the tendon in his off-fore and, when he returned to training after ten days, his connections were always optimistic that he would be ready in time. After putting Frankel through a workout before racing on Two Thousand Guineas day, his trainer announced that `he seems fine now.' Frankel, who looked to have grown stronger over the winter, had beaten his two main Lockinge rivals before, both of them three times. Those rivals Excelebration and Dubawi Gold had actually met each other four times as three-year-olds, Excelebration coming out on top each time, including when winning the Hungerford Stakes (by six lengths) and the Prix du Moulin. Excelebration had changed stables over the winter and had won his warm-up race for Aidan O'Brien. He started at 100/30, the shortest odds in any of the five races in which he met Frankel during his career, but Frankel was still a 7/2-on shot to retain his unbeaten record. Frankel produced top form after seven months off the course and won by five lengths and four from Excelebration and Dubawi Gold after tracking his pacemaker and close relation Bullet Train until taking over two furlongs out. Both second and third were patiently ridden and might have finished a little nearer if they had started their challenges from a closer position, though Frankel's outstanding timefigure was itself testament to the fact that the Lockinge was a true test in which neither Excelebration nor Dubawi Gold would have had the slightest chance with Frankel, however they had been ridden.

The plans announced for Frankel involved a move from a mile up to a mile and a quarter, though that was not envisaged until much later in the season, possibly not until the Juddmonte International—a race sponsored by his owner—at York in August. There were some who became impatient, though, especially after the announcement that Frankel's next race would be at a mile in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot, where he met some familiar rivals and was sent off at 10/1-on against ten opponents, only two of whom had also been successful in Group 1 company, Excelebration and the Caulfield Guineas winner Helmet who was having his first start in Britain since being imported from Australia. Frankel delivered the perfect answer to those clamouring for something new. Instead of beating Excelebration by four and five lengths, he beat him by eleven!

Queen Anne Stakes © Trevor JonesThe Queen Anne, which opened the meeting, was only ever going to be about Frankel who, without feeling the full force of the whip, produced a breathtaking performance that stretched his dominance as far as it was manifested in any of his fourteen races. The rout arguably settled the question about whether he really was the best there has ever been. Always travelling strongly, Frankel went past Bullet Train with less than three furlongs to go, Excelebration staying in touch with him at first before Tom Queally unleashed Frankel, who burst clear from the two-furlong pole and galloped on remorselessly. Excelebration was four or five lengths in front of the rest until he faltered inside the final furlong, almost certainly paying the penalty for trying to keep up with Frankel and eventually holding on for second by just a neck from Side Glance, with the German-trained challenger Indomito a further length back in fourth, followed by Windsor Palace, Bullet Train, Helmet, Premio Loco, Red Jazz, a well below form Strong Suit and Worthadd. Excelebration, incidentally, beat Side Glance and Indomito by wide margins when they met again later in the season in Group 1 races that Excelebration won. Frankel's trainer was the centre of attention after the Queen Anne. `I wanted Tom to produce him between the two-and-a-half marker and the two-furlong pole, because he's got a good stride on him and takes some catching, keeping going when other horses don't ... he's a great horse, he's exceptional but I don't like comparing them. I don't see how people can judge horses from different generations, in different countries and over different distances, and put them a pound ahead of each other, I think it's all double dutch.'

Cecil was partly alluding to the comparisons being made between Frankel and Black Caviar. `They are both champions in their own right, one a sprinter, the other a miler/middle-distance horse, you can't compare them, why can't we just appreciate what we've got?' Comparisons between past and present champions are usually even more contentious than comparisons between contemporary champions, and they can be particularly unfair when the horses concerned have raced decades apart. Times change, with improvements in nutrition and training techniques, and in the general level of competition, and claims about the respective merits of exceptional champions forty or fifty years apart can never be substantiated to everyone's satisfaction. The population of three-year-olds and upwards dealt with in the Racehorses annual has roughly doubled since the days of Sea-Bird and Brigadier Gerard and, statistically, it might be reasonable to expect the number of highly-rated horses in that category to have increased as the population has increased. Would it not be equally reasonable to expect the rating of the highest-rated horse to have gone up too? If so, it is testament to the immense ability of Brigadier Gerard, and of Sea-Bird just before him, that it has taken so long for their feats to be surpassed. They were far superior to the norm in their eras, as can be illustrated by a brief summary of selected performances which represent their best.

Take Sea-Bird's performance in the 1965 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The classic crop that year was one of superlative merit and the first three in the Arc were all three-year-olds. Sea-Bird was the only horse to beat the Arc runner-up Reliance (unbeaten up to the Arc), and only Sea-Bird and Reliance beat the Arc third Diatome that season. The twenty-strong field had tremendous strength in depth, containing the best middle-distance performers of the year (including five current Derby winners) from France, Britain, Ireland, Italy, the United States and Russia, and was arguably the strongest ever assembled for a race in Europe, either before or since. Sea-Bird was officially credited with winning the Arc by six lengths, with Reliance finishing five lengths ahead of Diatome, though photographic evidence subsequently suggested that the official distances were exaggerated (the Timeform ratings accorded to Sea-Bird, Reliance [137] and Diatome [130] are more in line with distances of four and a half lengths and four). The form is nonetheless cast iron and was franked afterwards when Diatome and Arc eighth Carvin went on to fill the first two places in the Washington International (the summit of European ambition in North America in the era before the Breeders' Cup). The Arc fifth Anilin (beaten nearly twelve lengths at Longchamp) won the Preis von Europa next time by four lengths and the Arc seventh Demi Deuil (beaten over twenty at Longchamp) went on to win the Premio Roma by seven. Carvin, beaten nearly twenty-five lengths in Sea-Bird's Arc, came sixth the following year, four and a half lengths behind the winner; second place went to Sigebert who couldn't make the first ten in Sea-Bird's Arc.

Brigadier Gerard's career had a surfeit of tip-top performances but his second victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes was one of his very best. The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes was Group 2 in those days (thirteen of the races won by Brigadier Gerard are now designated as Group 1s) and Brigadier Gerard had to concede 7 lb to that year's Queen Anne Stakes winner Sparkler (who had run Brigadier Gerard to a head on atrocious ground in the St James's Palace Stakes the previous season). There was only one other serious contender, the 120-rated three-year-old Redundant, a notably genuine miler who had proved himself a very smart horse in handicaps. Brigadier Gerard was pushed right out to win in tremendous style by six lengths and five lengths from Sparkler and Redundant, the winning time a full second inside the track record. On the bare result, using the scale then applied by Timeform's handicappers, Brigadier Gerard gave Sparkler (rated 129 in that year's Racehorses) a 19-lb beating and Redundant a 30-lb beating. The margins that separate the finest competitors of any generation in top-class sport are usually small but the selected performances of Sea-Bird and Brigadier Gerard provide an accurate reflection of the gulf between them and most of their contemporaries, which is the only worthwhile way of comparing the great performers of different eras, given the various changes in circumstances that take place from one generation to the next.

Queen Anne Stakes © Steve CargillFrankel's Timeform rating of 147 could have been awarded after his win in the Lockinge, a slightly cautious view of the form being taken at the time because it was early in the season. His subsequent performance in the International could be interpreted similarly if value is given for an extra couple of lengths, which could easily be justified using analysis of the sectionals, in addition to the visual evidence. But Frankel's superiority over his contemporaries was never better exemplified than by his victory in the Queen Anne Stakes. No horse in Timeform's sixty-six-year experience would have beaten him that day. On a strict reading of the result, he gave a 29-lb beating to Excelebration, a 30-lb beating to Side Glance and a 32-lb beating to Indomito. Timeform's poundage allowances for distances beaten are mostly based on the official margins between horses, margins which, since 1997 in Britain, have been converted from the time lapses between the runners as they cross the line. A length—or eleven lengths, for that matter—is no longer a visual measurement as it was in days gone by. The British Horseracing Authority conversion of this time difference is made according to a scale which is beholden to the accuracy of the description of the going. It is necessary to establish, in the first place, a value for pounds-per-second, which is then divided by the lengths-per-second, according to the official scale, to arrive at the pounds-per-length. In the case of the Queen Anne, the official description of the ground was changed from good to soft to good following the race after Frankel's, meaning that lengths-per-second conversions from then on were different. Had Frankel's race taken place later on the card, his winning margin would have been returned as approximately twelve lengths, rather than eleven lengths, and Timeform's pounds-per-length allowance, derived from the time lapse, would have been adjusted too. As a matter of fact, however, there is no evidence that the ground changed significantly through the card on the first day at Royal Ascot: it is the Timeform view that the official description was inaccurate to begin with (Timeform returned the going as good).

In addition to the need to convert from time in the first place, it is also abundantly clear from evidence, as well as handicapping theory, that not all mile races should be treated exactly the same. A race run in under 98 seconds—as Frankel's Queen Anne was—is different to one run in, say, over 105 seconds. The upshot of a fast time and margins slightly compressed by a conversion based on an official going description that was wrong in Timeform's view is that the pounds-per-length used in the Queen Anne clearly should be higher than the norm. Establishing the correct pounds-per-length for any given circumstance is most important.

Mistakes are further amplified in the BHA assessments of the horses when so-called `yardstick' handicapping is applied, a process in which, for convenience, it is assumed that a particular horse has `run to form', with the assessment of the whole race based on that premise. Timeform uses a more statistical approach in which the likely ratings for a race, based on a study of previous results for that race or races like it, are used in conjunction with the previous form shown by the horses contesting the race, to establish a basis for the final calculation. In the case of the Queen Anne, the calculations for `race standardisation' and `prior-rating standardisation' both pointed to Frankel's performance being worth a Timeform rating in the mid-140s at least. Frankel's rating of 147 was not arrived at by assuming that the performance of one of the beaten horses could decide the entire level of the race. Indeed, the ratings for Frankel's Queen Anne Stakes do not have a single horse in the race running, conveniently or by chance, to its rating going into the race. Frankel's rating was raised from 143 to 147, Excelebration was considered to have run 15 lb below his best form, Side Glance 2 lb below form and Indomito 2 lb above his previous form, while every other horse in the Queen Anne recorded a Timeform rating 4 lb or more below its best. As a matter of policy, by the way, the overall level of the ratings in the Timeform Annuals over the years has not been allowed to rise or fall significantly in consecutive years, so that valid comparisons can be made between successive crops. That said, in line with the story in most sports, it would be very surprising if the average thoroughbred racehorse was, in reality, not superior to its ancestors from half a century ago, for some of the reasons outlined earlier.

Sussex Stakes © Trevor JonesFrankel's tearaway style had been a feature of some of his races as a three-year-old—he was at least ten lengths clear at halfway in the Two Thousand Guineas with almost everything else off the bridle. However, he became more tractable as a four-year-old, in the words of his trainer `learning that it had to be the rider who said "go", not him.' Frankel's jockey in all his races was Tom Queally, who always maintained that he `didn't want to play the film star' and sometimes seemed a little wary of interviews, though, in the saddle, he came out of his partnership with Frankel with enormous credit. After being returned one of the shortest-priced favourites in the post-war history of Royal Ascot (Tudor Minstrel won the 1947 St James's Palace at 100/6-on and Venture VII beat a single opponent in the 1960 edition of the same race at 33/1-on), Frankel started even shorter—at 20/1-on—in the Qipco Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. In the immediate aftermath of the Queen Anne Stakes, Cecil had raised the possibility of bringing forward Frankel's first race at a mile and a quarter by saddling him for the Eclipse. `He could do the Eclipse and then the Sussex—he has not had a hard race today,' he said. However, the decision was taken to stick to the original plan and remain at a mile until the International (`It is an extra half-furlong at York, but Sandown is a much stiffer track').

Cecil answered criticism about Frankel running in races against inferior opposition by saying `It's not my fault—or Frankel's—that other horses are inferior.' He added that connections would be `mad to say that they're not going to run in a particular Group 1 race because it is too easy.' Suggestions that Frankel should run in the July Cup—champion jockey Richard Hughes suggested in his Racing Post column that Frankel could win both the July Cup and the Arc—was met with the riposte `You listen to that and you won't have a horse, it has taken a long time to get him to relax.' The owner's racing manager accused critics of `treating the best horse in the world like a circus pony . . . being a jack of all trades is not the aim, the focus is to make him as good as we possibly can at the distances Henry feels he should race at.' A crowd of 21,363 turned up at Goodwood to see Frankel win the four-runner Sussex, an attendance that compared with 16,748 in 2010, and 19,674 when Frankel beat Canford Cliffs in the `Duel on the Downs' in 2011. Racegoers witnessed another one-horse race as Frankel turned the Group 1, which had £300,000 added prize money, into a procession. He strolled home by six lengths from his only worthy opponent Farhh to become the first dual winner of the Sussex Stakes since it was opened to four-year-olds in the 'sixties, in the process also equalling Rock of Gibraltar's seven Group 1 wins in succession. There was only three weeks to the International, for which the Sussex, one of the most prestigious races of the season, had seemingly served as little more than a stepping stone (`It felt like a piece of work, a nice prep for his next race,' Queally said afterwards).

The headline `Frankel set for International stardom' did indeed signal that Frankel was travelling to tackle a fresh challenge—but only as far as York. The fresh challenge was to win at his first attempt beyond a mile, in a race in which Brigadier Gerard suffered his only defeat, at the hands of the Derby winner Roberto when the race was run as the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup. There was no Derby winner in the latest edition, in fact there wasn't a single representative of the classic generation. Frankel started at 10/1-on, his most dangerous opponent looking to be the Breeders' Cup Turf and dual Coronation Cup winner St Nicholas Abbey, one of three Ballydoyle runners, who was sent off second favourite at 5/1, with Farhh and Frankel's stablemate Twice Over (winner of the race the previous year) the only others at shorter than 20/1.

Juddmonte International © Trevor JonesThe marketing build-up—featuring adverts on Yorkshire Television `Come and see Frankel, the greatest horse in the world'—contributed to a clamour for tickets for what York's chief executive William Derby described afterwards as `the most memorable day we have ever had here.' There had, he said, never been so many cars parked on the Knavesmire—the approach roads were jammed before racing—and the crowd of 30,163 was fifty per cent up on the same day the previous year (19,457 in 2011). As racegoers packed in around the paddock to get a sight of Frankel, the emotionally-charged atmosphere was heightened by the sight of his trainer looking gaunt and walking with the aid of a stick, appearing on a racecourse again after missing the Sussex. Frankel's owner Khalid Abdulla was at York too, after missing Frankel's appearances at Royal Ascot and Goodwood. Entering the paddock with a police escort, Frankel looked well muscled up and very fit. He never turned a hair, either in the paddock preliminaries (though he was sweating between his back legs as so often) or going to post. A fluent mover, as was his sire, Frankel floated over the ground on the way to the start. He proved a class apart from his rivals in the race itself, recording one of his finest victories, one that will have left an indelible mark on the memory of those who witnessed it (the number of Channel 4 TV viewers and the audience share were both up by over forty per cent, the 845,000 who were watching equivalent to a twelve per cent share of the terrestrial TV audience at the time).

Ridden as patiently in the International as in any race since his two-year-old days, Frankel slipped through quickly from the rear soon after the runners had turned into the home straight, steered towards the stand rail by a motionless Queally. He took up the running on the bridle around two furlongs out, after cruising up alongside St Nicholas Abbey, who had also been waited with and had himself yet to be asked a serious question after moving very smoothly into contention. Farhh had also travelled well from the start in a truly-run race (the pace set by the Ballydoyle pacemakers), but neither he nor St Nicholas Abbey was able to go with Frankel once he produced his now-customary burst, after one tap with the whip, to go clear with over a furlong to go. Ridden out only with hands and heels, Frankel was value for more than the seven lengths by which he beat very close finishers Farhh and St Nicholas Abbey, with Twice Over coming six lengths further back in fourth. The reception Frankel received from the Yorkshire crowd was rapturous as his jockey trotted him down in front of the stands before returning to the unsaddling enclosure. As well as recording another performance that merited a Timeform rating of over 140, Frankel also put up the best time performance of the year, his 1.45 fast (equivalent to a timerating of 136) displacing his 1.43 fast in the Two Thousand Guineas as the fastest timefigure of the twenty-first century. Frankel's performances on the clock were as impressive as his form ratings and he was responsible for the three highest timefigures recorded by any horse over any distance in the latest season, returning 1.36 fast in the Champion Stakes on his final appearance, following his 1.34 fast in the Lockinge. Frankel was his trainer's fourth winner of the International and in a post-race interview—his cancer treatment having left his voice faint—he said `That was great, wasn't it? It's fantastic. It's great for Yorkshire. They are very supportive of racing and they deserve to see him.'

There was some discussion in the media straight after York about the possibility of Frankel stepping up to a mile and a half for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (for which he would have had to be supplemented). Both his owner and trainer had seemed reluctant, however, in the immediate aftermath of the International and it always seemed likely that Frankel would have his final outing before retirement in the Champion Stakes on British Champions' Day at Ascot thirteen days after the Arc. Frankel was quoted at 4/1-on with a run for the Arc, though conditions on the day were very soft, placing the emphasis firmly on stamina, and he might well have been pulled out anyway even if connections had decided to target Longchamp. Finishing his career in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita against North America's top dirt performers would have been fitting, given that he takes his name from the legendary American trainer who enjoyed so many fine victories at the course, but Cecil (`Do I really want to run him on dirt?') was not in favour and, with only a fortnight between British Champions' Day and the main day of the Breeders' Cup, it was unlikely that Frankel would be asked to take in both. All of Frankel's races at four were part of the fledgling British Champions' Series—`We need to support it,' said Cecil—and, although he was certainly missed from Europe's Breeders' Cup challenge, his presence at Ascot resulted in a sell-out crowd of 32,348 (it wasn't financially viable for Ascot to increase the capacity for a single day by erecting temporary facilities, as for the five days of Royal Ascot, all of which had significantly bigger crowds than Champions' Day). There was a short-lived discussion among connections about Frankel contesting the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp between the International and the Champion Stakes, though there was an opportunity closer to home in the shape of that calendar space-filler the Joel Stakes (promoted to plug the gap when the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes was moved to its new Champions' Day slot). The Joel is Group 2 and one of the weakest races in the British Champions' Series, and Frankel would have had only a 4-lb penalty. A racecourse gallop at Newmarket on Cambridgeshire day, the day after the Joel Stakes, formed part of Frankel's preparation for British Champions' Day.

After the Champion Stakes © Mark Cranham/Racing Post PhotosThe Qipco Champion Stakes originally looked as if it might prove something of a lap of honour, but it turned out to be anything but. Frankel's appearance, on a day when the curtain came down on BBC TV's long-standing Flat racing coverage, hung in the balance at one time as heavy rain hit Ascot and turned the going testing. Some of Frankel's connections walked the track on the morning of the race before finally giving the thumbs up. Frankel looked tremendous, probably in the best shape we had ever seen him (he didn't get warm between his back legs until leaving the paddock), and he started at 11/2-on despite the concerns over ground conditions and the fact that he was up against two of the best middle-distance horses around. They were the previous year's winner Cirrus des Aigles, the best horse in France who was barred from the Arc because he is a gelding, and the Eclipse Stakes winner Nathaniel, who had been an intended runner in the Arc until being ruled out by a temperature. The other overseas challenger in the six-strong line-up was the Deutsches Derby winner Pastorius, having his first race outside Germany.

Unlike some of Frankel's previous races, in which most of the pleasure had been derived from witnessing a sublime demonstration of his superiority, the Champion Stakes turned into more of a competition than a demonstration. Frankel missed the break and his pacemaker Bullet Train was quickly restrained, resulting in a steady early pace with Cirrus des Aigles left in front until Frankel recovered the two or three lengths he had lost. Bullet Train pressed on again after three furlongs or so, with Frankel poised in mid-field until making up ground in the straight. He drew almost alongside the leaders Cirrus des Aigles and Nathaniel with two furlongs to run, looking as if he could take it up when his jockey wanted. After edging ahead of Cirrus des Aigles, however, Frankel had to be ridden at the furlong pole to assert himself—a very rare sight for him—and was then pushed along to win, with a little in hand, by a length and three quarters. It was the smallest margin of victory in any of his races since the St James's Palace Stakes in which he had made heavy weather of the closing stages, after being in a clear lead, and was run to three quarters of a length. Nathaniel, a fully established Group 1 performer who also had a King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes victory on his record, ran right up to his best to finish third in the Champion, a further two and a half lengths behind Cirrus des Aigles and three and a half ahead of fourth-placed Pastorius. The remarkable scenes that followed Frankel's tenth Group 1 win, and ninth in succession, provided a fitting farewell for a horse described afterwards by his worryingly frail trainer, barely able to raise his voice above a whisper, as `the best I've ever had, the best I've ever seen, I can't believe that in the history of racing there has ever been better.'

Frankel takes up stallion duties at Banstead Manor Stud, Newmarket, in 2013, valued at more than £100m and set to command a fee of £125,000, just over half as much again as the fee set in 2013 for the stud's current stallion stars Dansili and Oasis Dream. Juddmonte Farms, the breeding arm of the bloodstock empire of Frankel's owner, has an exceptional band of broodmares, of whom around twenty-five (including multiple Group/Grade 1 winner Midday and her dam Midsummer, Timepiece and her dam Clepsydra, and Emulous and her dam Aspiring Diva, among others) are likely to visit Frankel in his first season when he is set to cover around one hundred and thirty mares in all. Of the remainder, the likes of Danedream, and Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Zagora, the 2009 Japan Cup winner Vodka and Zenyatta's Grade 1-winning half-sister Balance, along with US Broodmare of the Year Oatsee (dam of the 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford) illustrate the quality and international make-up of Frankel's first book. Although he will be provided with plenty of the best mares, there is no guarantee that Frankel will shine at stud, where he will have to start building his reputation all over again, with all eyes on his first two-year-olds when they reach the racecourse in 2016. Frankel certainly has plenty in his favour, being by the extremely well-bred Galileo, currently the world's number-one sire whose fee is `private' (when it was last advertised, in 2007, it was [euro]150,000, but has now probably doubled). Galileo sired twenty-two individual European pattern winners in the latest season and was champion sire in the Racing Post's combined table for Britain and Ireland for the fourth time in five years, his prize money earnings of £5,774,558 beating his own record. Frankel's grandsire and his great grandsire both achieved legendary status at stud. His grandsire Sadler's Wells was combined British and Irish champion fourteen times, and his great grandsire Northern Dancer, who was active before the days of three-figure books and  never had a crop larger than thirty-six, commanded a stud fee of 500,000 dollars in the mid-'eighties. Northern Dancer, Sadler's Wells and Galileo are among only eight stallions who have sired the winners of a hundred or more European pattern races since the official pattern was introduced in 1971. Galileo (137) already ranks third in that list behind Sadler's Wells (327) and Danehill (198), having overtaken Nureyev (121) in the latest season.

When Frankel's dam, Kind, who was bred to stay middle distances but turned out to be a sprinter, visited Galileo for the mating that produced Frankel, she did so under a continuing arrangement whereby a batch of Juddmonte mares visited Sadler's Wells each year and, after him, his sons, with the offspring shared by Juddmonte and Coolmore. Juddmonte had first call in the year of Frankel, who was apparently an outstanding yearling. He matured into a strong, well-made colt, quickly identified on entering the paddock by his four white stockings and the distinctive star on his forehead. He was an imposing two-year-old compared to most of his contemporaries but he didn't stand out quite so much as an older horse, measuring just over sixteen hands. The most striking thing about him was that he was a beautiful mover in his faster paces, with a remarkably extravagant stride that devoured the ground when he was fully opened out.

Northern Dancer appears on both sides of Frankel's pedigree, also being the sire of Kind's grandsire Danzig. Kind's sire the extremely successful stallion Danehill was bred by Juddmonte but sold to Coolmore after his racing days when he won the Sprint Cup at Haydock. Kind and her dam Rainbow Lake, who won the Lancashire Oaks, also raced in the familiar Abdulla colours of green, pink sash and cap, white sleeves, as did Rainbow Lake's sire Rainbow Quest, a yearling purchase from America who became the first of four Prix de l'Arc winners for his owner before proving himself a top sire. The second of Abdulla's Arc winners, Dancing Brave, was also bought as a yearling in America but, by the 'nineties, Juddmonte Farms was producing most of the horses that carried the Abdulla colours. The owner's two other Arc winners Rail Link and Workforce were Juddmonte home breds and the stud's produce have also won all the classics in Britain and France at least once.

The family from which Frankel is descended entered the Juddmonte stud book when his great grandam Rockfest was acquired in the 'eighties with much of the British-based stock of American owner/breeder John Hay Whitney. Whitney had most of his horses in Europe with Jeremy Tree, who was also Khalid Abdulla's first trainer and was influential in the purchase of the Whitney stock. Rockfest was useful on the racecourse and stayed a mile and a half, while most of Rainbow Lake's offspring have stayed at least that distance too, including Last Train, runner-up in the latest Grand Prix de Paris. Both Rainbow Lake and Kind, who won a seven-furlong maiden before gaining five more wins at five and six including two in listed company, produced pattern winners by Sadler's Wells. Rainbow Lake was the dam of the Arlington Million and Tattersalls Gold Cup winner Powerscourt, while Kind's visit to Sadler's Wells resulted in Bullet Train, her first foal, a smart performer at his best who won the Lingfield Derby Trial. Frankel is Kind's second foal, and her third is Frankel's smart brother Noble Mission, who won the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood, and her fourth the once-raced Morpheus (by Oasis Dream), who was also in training at Warren Place in the latest season. Kind also has a yearling filly by Oasis Dream but she was then barren to Galileo before being returned to him in 2012.

It would have provided added fascination if Frankel, who acted on soft and good to firm going, had been given the chance to prove that he stayed a mile and a half, the classic European distance over which many of his greatest predecessors cemented their reputations in races that are now fixed in the national consciousness, races such as the Derby, the King George and the Prix de l'Arc. Frankel was too keen and pulled too hard as a three-year-old to have stayed the trip in the Derby, but the more settled and tractable Frankel on show in the latest season would surely have got the extra distance. His dominant display in the International, after which he took some pulling up, showed that he was equally as devastating at ten and a half furlongs as at a mile. But, in the end, did it really matter that Frankel never ran at a mile and a half, or that he never raced abroad, or on any surface other than turf? It is necessary to go back to the nineteenth century, when Ormonde won sixteen out of sixteen, to find an undefeated champion on the Flat in Britain who retired with such an extraordinary record. In terms purely of the quality of his performances, the measure used by this Annual to compare horses, Frankel had nothing left to prove. He was a phenomenon for the racing world to wonder at and his legend is powerful enough to endure, and even to blossom, with the passing years.

After the Champion Stakes © Edward Whitaker/Racing Post PhotosPostscript:  While North American champions of yesteryear seem to be getting faster—literally with Secretariat in the 1973 Preakness Stakes (see the essay on I'll Have Another)—some of the great European champions have had their historical International Classification marks posthumously downgraded. When Frankel was `officially' declared the greatest horse in the history of the World Thoroughbred Rankings when the 2012 rankings were unveiled in January, the committee of international handicappers also announced a `recalibration' of the assessments of some of the champions in the early years of the International Classifications which were first published in 1977. Without convincingly explaining why the means of the ratings of various groups of horses had been allowed to slip over time, or why the assessments of champions in the early years had not been corrected earlier, the handicappers downgraded such as Dancing Brave (141 to 138), Alleged (140 to 134) and Shergar (140 to 136), the aim being to `level the playing field for comparisons to be made'. Without the `recalibration', Frankel would have been joint second on the International Classifications/World Thoroughbred Rankings listed behind Dancing Brave, and level with Alleged and Shergar. The new list sees Dancing Brave demoted to number two, Peintre Celebre up three places to number three, followed by Generous (up two places), Sea The Stars (up five) and Shergar (down two), that trio sharing fourth place. Alleged and El Gran Senor (downgraded from 138 to 135) drop out of the top five. Perhaps it would have been better to raise the assessments of the top horses from recent years to bring them into line with the original International Classifications, rather than the other way round. If that had happened, Frankel would have been assessed at something like 144, rather than the 140 he has been allotted. Timeform research suggests that the `official' assessments continued to slip until 2006, and have rebounded a little since. Back in 1986, Dancing Brave's year, Timeform ratings and the International Classifications were on a nearly-identical scale, judged on the top horses (the difference since 2006 has varied between 4 lb and 5 lb). On the subject of Dancing Brave, Racehorses of 1986 carried a postscript to his essay recording that: `We cannot for the life of us understand how Dancing Brave is reckoned to have given Bering a 7-lb beating in the Arc [he came out 3 lb better on the official result] . . . we have no truck with anyone who tells us that, on the form-book, Dancing Brave is entitled to be regarded 7 lb in front of any other horse in Europe in 1986.' Incidentally, an erroneous story, based on the reflections of former senior handicapper Geoffrey Gibbs, appeared in the Racing Post claiming that Dancing Brave's Classification mark was, in part, a `retirement present' for David Swannell, the Jockey Club's senior handicapper. In fact, Swannell had retired three years earlier. The story illustrates the pitfalls of trying to reinvent history. Let's trust that, having `recalibrated' some of its historical form assessments, the World Rankings Supervisory Committee isn't tempted to move on to some of the race results themselves, perhaps by producing an amended list of Derby winners containing El Gran Senor and Dancing Brave!

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Frankel Facts

The 'Frankel factor' saw a record first day attendance at the Ebor Festival on 22 August 2012, when a total of 30,163 racegoers turned up to see Frankel in the Juddmonte International - 55% more people than on the same day in 2011. The attendance eclipsed the previous best for an opening day of the festival back in 1989, when just over 23,000 racegoers were present.