For all Frankel's brilliance, there are some waiting to test the wonder horse status of the 2,000 Guineas winner, and waiting with relish. Step forward Richard Hannon, whose Canford Cliffs yesterday slapped down a gauntlet on behalf of the older generation of milers in the season's first top-level prize for that division, the Lockinge Stakes.
The four-year-old had to defy a 290-day absence – his previous outing had been when he beat Rip Van Winkle in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood last July – but did so in style after a brief tussle with the Italian raider Worthadd. "He's the best I've ever trained," said Hannon. "He can cruise and he can accelerate, and those horses are very rare. He was burly enough today and he's only going to get better. Bring Frankel on. Bring any of them on."
Canford Cliffs, third in the Guineas last year, did nothing but progress from that point and has matured into a magnificent specimen. His innate power was apparent yesterday in the preliminaries and in the race, in which he moved smoothly from the pack to tackle 25-1 shot Worthadd, left in the lead after Twice Over dropped tamely away, as soon as Richard Hughes gave the order. Ring-rustiness meant it took the Tagula colt a stride or two to assert, but once he did he drew clear of last year's Italian Guineas and Derby winner for a dominant length-and-a-quarter victory, and Hughes is right behind Hannon in the queue to take on Frankel.
"He's bigger, better and stronger than last year, physically and mentally," Hughes said. "Perhaps he wasn't quite as electric today as people expected, a little lethargic in his response, but we've spent the winter trying to settle him, saying woah, woah, woah, and then you suddenly say go-go-go to him. Next time there'll be more fire. Maybe people will understand now why I say I feel privileged to ride him. With him under me, I'm not afraid of any horse. And Frankel certainly won't be able to do to him what he did in the Guineas."
Before any clash with Frankel – the Sussex Stakes might be the occasion – the first superstar in Canford Cliffs' crosshairs is the French six-year-old Goldikova in next month's Queen Anne Stakes. Last year the mare beat Paco Boy, Canford Cliffs' erstwhile stablemate, in the Royal Ascot contest and then again at Longchamp en route to her unprecedented third Breeders' Cup Mile victory. "She kept beating Paco," added Hannon, "but she's a year older now and she'll have her work cut out to beat this fella."
Before then, Hannon intends to gauge Goldikova's stomach for a fight with his other top-class four-year-old Dick Turpin, who yesterday finished fourth, a place behind Premio Loco, on ground quicker than ideal. Both he and Goldikova are scheduled to run in the Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp two weeks today.
And at the Paris track this afternoon, another rival to Frankel may emerge, this time among his contemporaries. Wootton Bassett, from Richard Fahey's Yorkshire yard, had to miss the Guineas because of a setback but success in the French equivalent would surely set up a showdown between the three-year-olds in the St James's Palace Stakes at Ascot.
Wootton Bassett, who is defending an unbeaten record, gave Fahey and champion jockey Paul Hanagan their first Group One victories on the French course. "You need a certain type of horse to cope with the demands of travel," said Fahey yesterday, "and it gives me great confidence that he's done it before and his preparation could not have been better. We'll see how it goes, and then see about what we do next."