Cecil eyes Ascot over Epsom for phenomenally fast Frankel
Monday 02 May 2011
As he broke free of his hapless pursuers, apparently ambling one stride for their every two, Frankel shattered the fetters of both expectation and convention. Here is a champion who sets his own parameters. It seems pretty certain he will stay at a mile for his next start, at Royal Ascot, not least because connections can instead measure the Investec Derby competence of World Domination at York next week. But after seeing what he did on Saturday, who would presume to tell him – or his trainer – the limits of his reach?
Few modern thoroughbreds have so stupefied seasoned witnesses the way Frankel did in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. Once regaining the power of speech, however, they were soon groping for the comforting precepts that have governed the career of almost any other racehorse in their experience. He was far too fast, they reckoned, for anyone to entertain the fantasy that he could conceivably stretch another half-mile at Epsom. If anything, he should be dropped in distance for the top sprints.
But it is not just his own, freakish ability that warrants a communal suspension of disbelief. For the author of this performance – if only in visual impact, one with few precedents in the 203-year history of the Classic – is a man whose genius has itself been released into uncharted territory. Henry Cecil, trainer of 24 previous British Classic winners, has probably never handled a horse with less fear, never mind one quite as frightening as Frankel.
It menaces his dignity to reprise yet again the vicissitudes that reduced Cecil to a bare dozen winners in 2005. It is worth wondering, however, whether his fight with the same disease that claimed Bobby Frankel – whose memory has now been immortalised by their mutual patron, Khaled Abdulla – has caused Cecil not merely to disclose his courage, but to discover it.
At 68, a man who has had to persuade himself that his attitude can contribute to his very survival will hardly allow diffidence to interfere with his instincts for even the momentous horserace. In authorising Tom Queally to hurtle so far clear, so soon, Cecil took a breathtaking risk. When Queally reached for his whip, a furlong out, it seemed possible that Frankel would fall in a heap. But Cecil is adamant the horse had tired only of his solitude. "He destroyed them, didn't he?" he said. "But he didn't destroy himself. His way of running, with that long stride, looks exhausting but he didn't have as hard a race as people think."
The half-dozen lengths that still separated Frankel from Dubawi Gold and Native Khan at the line – with the rabble strewn another 11 lengths away – was a less pertinent measure of his superiority than the surreal separation he had established by halfway. Cecil had decided that Frankel was infinitely the best horse, and not to dignify the others by incorporating them into his strategy. He had traced a tendency in Frankel to race freely to the inhibition of his prodigious gait. Once satisfied that he would relax in front, on the gallops, Cecil recognised a bigger risk in failing to take charge of his own destiny. Such, perhaps, are the clarities available in adversity.
Others, clearly, had a part to play. Cecil was at characteristic pains to thank his staff, while Queally is proving every bit as icy as you might surmise from the marbled pallor of his complexion as he strolled through the parade ring before the race. Abdulla and his team have excelled in introducing the genes of Galileo – not to mention his late sire, Sadler's Wells, – to one of their own families.
Needless to say, none of these people need anyone to tell them that the colt who was being led round in a lip chain bore no obvious resemblance to the Epsom paradigm.
Frankel is very much a pugilist, in physique, and his technique is all hook and no jab. Even at the time, however, his oozing sweat and energy seemed more suggestive of a surfeit of inner power, than of some perilously restive nature.
With all that in mind, it would border on insolence to take issue with anything Cecil might propose now. Having celebrated on Saturday evening by watching a Sherlock Holmes film, and turning in before 9.30pm, he was reserving judgement yesterday. But he strongly implied that he was favouring the St James's Palace Stakes. "Nothing has been confirmed yet, but I wouldn't personally back him for the Derby," he said. "You're going into completely unknown territory and with the speed he's got, he'd have to be an extraordinary horse. I think it would be much better to feel our way with him, and not confuse him. I think at the back of his mind, the Prince isn't for the Derby, either."
An experiment over longer distances will probably be reserved for the Juddmonte International at York in August. If he happened to stay 10 furlongs there, then who can say where an immunity to fear might yet lead Frankel? Though his sire-line has historically seemed repelled by the surface, the manner of his performance on Saturday – a combination of unyielding momentum and brute speed – was unmistakably redolent of the great American dirt runners. Conceivably, he might even end up in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
With a genuine freak you shed all the complication of doubt. You can do just about anything you fancy. Perhaps Cecil will remember how Holmes put it. "The more bizarre a thing is, the less mysterious it proves to be."
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