One of the constables deputed to shepherd him towards the saddling boxes looked up and saw Frankel being led out of the pre-parade ring. "Now," he muttered to his colleague. "Here comes Seabiscuit."
Never again be deceived by the trite consensus that only hoary old steeplechasers ever stick around long enough to find a meaningful niche in the hearts of the racing public. During the previous race, which happened to be the main trial for the season's final Classic, not one of the hundreds who had staked out a few square inches round the pre-parade ring, saddling area and paddock was prepared to forfeit his or her precious portion of Yorkshire. They stood so deep, their backs to a gripping finish out on the track, that most could only mark Frankel's progress by the cameras and cellphones rising sequentially aloft, like flowers opening before the sun.
Those who did glimpse him could testify that the burnished champion indeed exuded an almost solar brilliance. And those mortal creatures who dared to stand in his path, as he sought his first win beyond a mile, were duly left scorched and blackened in his wake. Frankel ran away with the Juddmonte International Stakes in much the same fashion that he had won a dozen previous starts – the last eight now Group Ones, a record sequence – plainly a class apart from any thoroughbred on earth, not to mention, or so the suspicion grows, most past paragons whose bones now rest in its soil.
Relief surged through the crowd. This had been one of those rare sporting occasions when everyone wanted only ceremony, not competition. John Magnier, the Coolmore boss, even sought out Lord Grimthorpe – racing manager to Frankel's owner, Khaled Abdulla – to advise their intentions for St Nicholas Abbey and his two pacemakers, and to assure him that there would be "no funny business" to thwart the favourite.
Onlookers had been aghast at the emaciation of Sir Henry Cecil, whose six-year struggle with cancer had prevented him getting to Goodwood for his champion's previous start. Horse and trainer alike have become so precious that anticipation was laced with dread. Sure enough, when Tom Queally allowed Frankel to amble from the rear to join St Nicholas Abbey, halfway up the straight, an exuberant roar swelled through the stands – which housed a crowd up 50 per cent on last year, to more than 30,000. Children were hoisted upon shoulders, perplexed witnesses to proceedings that might some day be recalled with boastful clarity. And Frankel came bounding clear, under hands and heels, to see off Farhh by seven lengths, the latter in turn just holding St Nicholas Abbey. Farhh's rider, Frankie Dettori, returned grinning and shaking his head, re-enacting his fruitless shoving in pursuit of the invincible.
Cecil and Frankel were each accorded three raucous cheers in the winner's enclosure. His throat weak, Cecil whispered gratitude. "That was great, wasn't it?" he asked. "Great for Yorkshire – they love their racing, and they deserve to see him." The whole thing, he avowed, made him feel "20 years better".
In some, however, the euphoria will have a bittersweet edge. Could anyone sensibly suggest, now, that another 352 yards in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe might represent a reckless gamble with Frankel's potency? Greatness suffuses Frankel's every step, but Cecil has been reluctant to measure it in ways better calculated to quantify his ultimate standing in the Turf pantheon. This was almost certainly Frankel's penultimate start, and the chances are that he will complete his career at Ascot on 20 October – condemned, thereby, to two months of idleness and an eternity, for every other racing nation, as some parochial mystery of the British Turf.
Grimthorpe did not wholly dismiss the Arc, for which Frankel would have to be supplemented. "Henry didn't want to put him in the Arc, so obviously that would have to be discussed," he said. "That choice will be Prince Khaled's, but we'll have to see. The plan was always Ascot, and it's just a question of how he comes out and where we go from there."
He reiterated that Santa Anita's decision to restore dirt, after an experiment with a synthetic surface, had always counted against a swansong at the Breeders' Cup – though he acknowledged the appeal of taking the colt named in his memory to the old stamping ground of the late trainer Bobby Frankel. "Prince Khaled loves the Breeders' Cup and we'd love to take Frankel to Santa Anita, Bobby's hometown," he said. "The emotional ties would be just too fantastic. But unfortunately maybe the right race is not there. We're not going to take him on dirt first time around."
Going for the Arc, of course, would open up the possibility of the Breeders' Cup Turf instead. But Queally sagely cautioned against any counsel that implied ingratitude to those who have shown such mastery in bringing Frankel even this far. "People are very fast to look at a racecard and say he should win," Queally said. "It's not easy to get any horse to the races and win every time. Years have gone into this horse, from a lot of people all the way back to those who brought him into the world on day one."
Sponsored as it is by the same Juddmonte Farms, where they reared their own champion, this race has long been a special target for Abdulla's team. "You get so spoilt," Grimthorpe said. "I don't want to sound arrogant, but the expectations every time he runs are just enormous – and it's fantastic the way he keeps delivering, time after time. But that's Frankel. I have never seen anything like it."
Chris McGrath's Nap
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