Donn's Articles » Frankel


It is something of a coincidence that Frankel struck the front in the Juddmonte International at York on Wednesday at just about that point at which he ventured into the unknown. Two furlongs and about 88 yards from York’s winning post was exactly a mile from the starting stalls from which Frankel had emerged, and a mile was as far as he had ever gone before in his extraordinary life.

It was at that point that Frankel sauntered up on the near side of his main rival St Nicholas Abbey, Tom Queally sitting church-mouse-like on his back as Joseph O’Brien crouched into the drive position on the Ballydoyle horse, and nosed to the front. Any doubts that lingered concerning the Galileo colt’s stamina for 10 and a half furlongs evaporated right there in the Yorkshire sunshine, Frankel doing what Frankel had done 12 times before, coming clear of his rivals with Queally wondering how he was eventually going to get him to stop 100 yards before they even reached the winning post.

In truth, there were never any realistic doubts. If best odds of 1/6 about victory on Wednesday morning looked determinedly measly, they looked decidedly charitable by the time Frankel went behind the stalls as a 1/10 shot. But more than the betting market, more scientific even than the ebb and flow of capital, the laws of biology and physics suggested that the longer distance was well within range.

Frankel’s breeding suggested that he could even improve for stepping up in trip from a mile. And not since he scrambled home in a strangely-run St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in June 2011 as a barely tractable adolescent had he given the impression that the mile pole was at the limit of his stamina range. On the contrary, since the genius of Sir Henry Cecil has persuaded the colt to relax through his races, distance has lost its relevance. Seven furlongs, a mile, 10 furlongs, it doesn’t seem to matter any more. If Frankel had lined up in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes on Friday over half the distance of the Juddmonte International on Wednesday, they probably still would have made him a warm favourite.

Distance boundaries are not the only boundaries that Frankel transcends. He spills out over racing’s banks for starters. It takes something very special to emerge from racing’s cocoon and break into mainstream print and broadcast media. Frankel has.

He also lifts barriers within the sport. The vanquished trainers and riders in Wednesday’s race gushed afterwards about how special it was just to be a part of it all, to have played a peripheral role in the Frankel play. And this in a sport in which winning is everything and second is nowhere.

Before Wednesday’s race, John Magnier told Frankel’s connections how the Ballydoyle horses would be ridden: Robin Hood and Windsor Palace to the fore, St Nicholas Abbey behind them. The Coolmore supremo wasn’t betraying confidence, nor was he telling Team Frankel something that they or most racing enthusiasts could not have worked out for themselves, but as a gesture, it was sporting in the extreme.

Frankel is a son of the champion Coolmore sire Galileo, so there is a sense of basking in reflected glory. However, St Nicholas Abbey is a son of another champion Coolmore sire, the recently deceased Montjeu, and St Nicholas Abbey was in town to beat Frankel if he could, no question. But, as well as being practitioners and participants, John Magnier and Aidan O’Brien are also racing fans and, like all racing fans, they can appreciate a great athlete, a once-in-a-lifetime athlete, when it gallops down the Knavesmire in front of them, even if that athlete is not returning to Ballydoyle that evening.

The magnitude of Frankel’s greatness is difficult to measure. You can’t measure it in prose. He has run the superlatives’ well dry, he has generated a few more of his own, and you wouldn’t bet against the verb ‘to Frankel’ wending its way gradually from cyberspeak to general Oxford English use.

Timeform have tried to measure his greatness in numbers: 147, they say, the highest rating they have ever awarded any racehorse in the 64-year history of the organisation. Higher than Sea-Bird, higher than Brigadier Gerard. In racing or on a snooker table, you can’t go any higher.

And yet, still we crave more. That’s the nature of this sport, at once infuriating and intoxicating. No matter how good the moment is, we are all the while looking forward. What’s next?

Before Wednesday, common consensus decreed that Frankel’s final race of his season and of his career would be at Ascot on 20th October, either in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over a mile, the race in which he signed off for the season last term, or the Qipco Champion Stakes over a mile and a quarter. But such was the ease with which he saw out the 10 and a half furlongs of the Juddmonte International, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the quintessential 12-furlong European championship race, has now emerged as a defined object on Frankel’s horizon of possibility.

At the start of this season, Frankel and the Arc were not even remotely compatible bedfellows. So unimaginable were they as a pairing that the colt was not even entered in the Arc at entry stage just four months ago. The result of that omission is that, if Frankel is to run in the Arc, owner Prince Khalid Abdullah will have to come up with the €100,000 supplementary entry fee to put him into the race.

You can be sure that the small matter of a hundred grand will not prevent Frankel from running in the Arc, if the Arc is deemed to be the right race for the horse. That is the key. That has always been the key to Frankel. Right time, right race, right people around him, managing his career.

The stepping-stones that Sir Henry Cecil and Prince Khalid Abdullah have carefully chosen for the horse through his career have been rock solid. The path that they have formed has been the making of the horse. It is significant that Frankel didn’t run in the Derby last year, despite the fact that the Derby would have been the next logical step for a Guineas winner with his pedigree.

Cecil says that neither he nor the Prince chooses the races. After every race, the trainer says that the horse will tell him where he will run next, and you only half believe that he is speaking in the metaphorical.

The prospect of Frankel running in the Arc is an intriguing one, not least because it could set up a clash between this irresistible force and the immovable object that is Camelot, who could by then be travelling to France as the first Triple Crown winner in over 40 years.

For Frankel himself, it would be another step into the unknown: his first time to race at a distance in excess of a mile and a quarter; his first time to take on top class younger horses, conceding weight; his first time to travel beyond England’s borders.

More boundaries to transcend, probably just one more time. A crescendo, that’s what’s next.

26th August, 2012