Cecil battles butterflies but fluent Frankel flies in his final rehearsal
Facing a press conference later in the morning, Henry Cecil played down Frankel's work yesterday as "his final quiet piece" before the first Classic of the season on Saturday. Those who witnessed the young champion's latest detonation, however, would testify that "quiet" was just about the last word to describe the way Frankel once again scalded his lead horse, exploding several lengths clear. His trainer did admit that he has been delighted with Frankel's progress, since resurfacing at Newbury 11 days ago. "I'd be very surprised if he's not a better horse now than he was then," he said. "But we've still four days to go, haven't we?"
The unbeaten colt will go into the Qipco 2,000 Guineas as the hottest favourite since Nijinsky, in 1970. In the meantime, Cecil himself has trained a series of outstanding champions, but there is no mistaking the sense that he has something especially precious on his hands here. After all these years, he professes an undiminished, bittersweet tension. "You always worry a little bit about things going wrong," he said. "I've had so many horses have setbacks in the last week before a big race. But unless you have butterflies, it's not worth doing."
Conversely, it would appear, Frankel himself is becoming more laid-back about his vocation. His one Achilles' heel had seemed to be an inclination to race freely, but Cecil believes him far more settled now. The colt's owner has Rerouted, trained by Barry Hills, available to guarantee the pace on Saturday, but Cecil indicated that Tom Queally might easily send Frankel into the lead if dissatisfied with the tempo. After all, he noted, the partnership had freewheeled clear after leading a long way out in the Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot last year.
"I'd like a decent, sensible pace," Cecil said. "If I don't get it, I'm quite happy to do it myself. He could [make the running] if he had to, but hopefully he won't have to. My team have done a marvellous job. He is precocious, and you could set him alight. When the adrenaline goes, he can be a bit fiery. But hopefully he'll be easier as the year goes on, and he gets more experience. He does have this extraordinary stride, and he'll be more relaxed if you let him go and use himself the way he wants to. That's why you wouldn't fight him, if the pace were wrong."
If suitably encouraged by Frankel's performance on Saturday, Cecil would be tempted to try him over 10 furlongs in the Totesport Dante Stakes at York next month, with a possible crack at the Investec Derby in mind. He is likely to hold fire, then, with plans for World Domination, who is also owned by Khalid Abdulla and impressed on the same Newbury card as Frankel.
"They made him second favourite for the Derby, but he has only won a maiden," Cecil complained. "He's potentially very nice. The trouble is, if he is a Derby horse, that if they have never run at two, you'd really like to give them three races before Epsom. Some horses can do it, like Commander In Chief [his 1993 winner]. But he was a big, robust horse, and this one has been less mature. If we can only give him two runs, then I'm wondering if he may learn a bit more by going to Lingfield than he would at York. We'll see."
Cecil was assisting the launch of the Qipco British Champions Series, designed to make the elite Flat programme more intelligible to a new audience. Some fairly astounding claims were made for its potential, but perhaps the panel was simply showing due gratitude in the presence of its Qatari sponsor. Sheikh Fahad al Thani had himself never been racing before last year's Guineas, and as such might himself be said to represent the zeal that may be latent in fresh converts to the Turf. While this series – with the exception of its controversial climax at Ascot in October – is a brazenly cosmetic exercise, it must be credited with an authentic, concrete boon in prompting this fresh investment from overseas. And who knows? Perhaps Frankel will prompt many more to join Sheikh Fahad's voyage of discovery. "I wanted to try it," he said. "And after you try it, you get a bug."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Eton Forever (3.05 Ascot) Zacinto and City Leader are clear on official ratings but neither could be described as progressive – unlike this one, who bolted up on only his fifth career start in the Lincoln consolation race.
Madany (4.15 Ascot) Plenty to find on paper but showed she has trained on well when unlucky second at the Craven meeting.
One to watch
Dominant (Roger Varian) Has clearly begun life in handicaps with a feasible rating, charging home for second on his reappearance at Sandown on Sunday.
Where the money's going
French raider Nova Hawk is 25-1 from 33-1 with Totesport for the Qipco 1,000 Guineas on Sunday.
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