Thursday, 1 November 2012

Farewell Frankel – the Best Ever?

No sitting on the fence from Timeform. Prior to the Qipco Champion Stakes they gave Frankel their highest-ever rating of 147 vs. Sea Bird 145, Brigadier Gerard 144, Mill Reef 141, and the dead-heating trio of Dancing Brave, Sea The Stars and Shergar on 140. “A truly exceptional racehorse. A phenomenon of the sport.” Phil Smith, the BHA Handicapper, after the Queen Anne and Juddmonte International rated him top of the World Thoroughbred Rankings. And similarly, Racing Post Ratings came in at Frankel 142, Dubai Millennium 139 and both Daylami and Sea The Stars on 138.

Surely the best-ever racehorse debate, though, is pretty pointless stuff, although highly absorbing. Can you truly compare horses across different eras, different countries and under different race conditions? Was Frankel really better than the likes of Seabiscuit, Ribot, Sea Bird or Secretariat? Ratings are only one way of doing it. Critics will always argue that Frankel never properly raced outside his comfort zone, didn’t travel beyond the UK, didn’t tackle the critical distance of 1m 4f and wasn’t fully tested. But then who has been around to test him? The star performance of Champions Day was actually Excelebration in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Yet Frankel had thrashed him by 10 lengths in the Queen Anne ....

But for racing, Frankel has been absolutely fantastic, a public relations dream and the making of the British Champions Series. It looks as though the mid-October slot will remain, in the short term. All it now needs is for the Irish, French, British and American racing authorities to show rare strategic vision and map out a global series of championship events with at least three weeks between them; upgrade some of the non-Group 1 races at Ascot, find even more prize money, add at least a two-year-old race and even consider extending the meeting to two days, as they do with the Arc and the Breeders’ Cup. What a prospect!

My personal memories of Frankel’s final outing all revolve around the tremendous cameraderie of the crowd, the seemingly continuous applause from his appearance in the pre-parade ring, the short-lived gasp of shock when he failed to come immediately out of the stalls, the realisation at the three-furlong marker that he was definitely going to win, then the crowds all rushing to have a final glimpse of him afterwards. Two notes of poignancy: the frailty of Sir Henry Cecil and the sight of Frankel being led off to his retirement. My wife and I went to see him after the race and watched him walk back to the stables, through the autumnal Ascot trees, never to grace a racecourse again. A final reflection – it made me chuckle when I saw The Times’ comment about “Fifty Shades of Hay”, and the pleasures ahead of him at stud.

Not that any of this affected The Curmudgeon. Received an abrupt phone-call. “Never mind all this nonsense about Frankel. How can he be classed the greatest horse ever if he’s never pinged a fence at full gallop? What about Big Buck’s, Kauto Star, Denman, Best Mate or Desert Orchid? And you tell me why the racing authorities managed to clash the so-called ‘Champions Day’ with the ‘Showcase’ meeting from Cheltenham. They just don’t understand proper racing!” Such debates will run and run. Unlike Frankel.


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