Cecil stays level-headed while all about him lose theirs over Frankel
Monday 18 October 2010
After maintaining his unbeaten record in such taking style in the Dewhurst Stakes, generally accepted as Europe's top race for juveniles, Frankel goes into the winter as a red-hot ante-post favourite for the 2,000 Guineas. And should he come through the close season unscathed, he will carry not only Tom Queally on his back as he canters to post for the Newmarket Classic, but the weight of hopes and expectations.
The handsome colt will now carry a banner for all. For the punters who have backed him; for those in the industry who seek a champion with the credentials to make a stallion; for racing fans who love to see a top-class racehorse; for the marketing people who know a "sexy" story when they see one (a horse named after a genius horseman lost to cancer, handled by another fighting the same disease); and for the public, from the mawkishly sentimental to the quietly genuine, who wish his trainer, Henry Cecil, well.
Amid the celebrations and acclaim after Frankel's clear-water victory on Saturday Cecil appeared the most grounded of all. With more than 40 years in the game he is perfectly aware that bubbles, particularly those encasing brilliantly precocious talent, can burst. He has, after all, had animals like Diesis, Be My Chief and High Estate in his care.
And, pointedly, he was quick to make a greater fuss of his second Group One winner of the weekend, the Champion Stakes hero Twice Over, than of the bright youngster. The five-year-old has been at Warren Place for four seasons now, with a fifth, starting with a trip to the Dubai World Cup, on the horizon. His star has been constant and Cecil declared: "He is my favourite horse."
As for Frankel, like Twice Over a bearer of the famous and faithful Khalid Abdullah silks, Cecil was more dispassionate. He has long rated the son of Galileo's athletic ability and that the bright bay is an outstanding juvenile is there for all to see, but a two-year-old racehorse is, in human terms, an adolescent, with the potential to develop as erratically and unpredictably as any teenager. "It is lovely to have a horse like this," he said, "and I've never had a two-year-old who works like him. Hopefully, he will have a good winter, and everything will go right and he will make a lovely three-year-old.
"But I am not going to do the usual thing for a trainer, to say he is the best horse I have ever trained, or tell the jockey to say he's the best he has ever ridden. That's for when they have proved themselves as three-year-olds and are going to stud. And we have a long way to go before then."
If collective will has its way, Frankel will continue his regal progress; and it can be noted, even if fancifully, that his four white socks are appropriately patterned with the black splashes known as ermine marks.
As Cecil knows, true greatness on the Turf must be proven in the adult company of the Classics and beyond. And if Frankel joins the list of bright early burners whose flame gutters at three, he will be neither the first nor the last. Take the juveniles judged most highly by Timeform, the analysts' bible, for more than 60 years.
Top of the list, in the annual publication's formative days, was Windy City, with a rating in 1951 of 142. He won Ireland's top juvenile race by eight lengths, the Gimcrack Stakes by five, was sold to the States and won one small contest at three. Celtic Swing (138 in 1994) won the Racing Post Trophy by 12 lengths and the Classics were regarded as a formality. He was not a total failure at three – second in his Guineas (at 4-5 favourite) and winner of the French Derby – but was no wonder horse either. The brilliantly fast filly Star Of India (138 in 1955) failed to train on, with one unplaced run at three.
Then there were putative second comings like Apalachee (137 in 1973), Arazi (135 in 1991) and Tromos (134 in 1978). Some crack juveniles do, of course, maintain and develop their ability in later life but an overweening champion at two and three is the exception, not the rule. Perhaps it is an omen that the most recent in the Timeform lists was the Cecil-trained Reference Point, winner of the Racing Post Trophy equivalent by seven lengths in 1986 and the Derby, King George and St Leger the following year.
Frankel, likely to have a mark of at least 130, will certainly give us all something to dream about over the winter. But before that there is the small matter of the world's richest meeting, the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs next month. On Saturday night the Aidan O'Brien-trained Joshua Tree earned his ticket to the Turf by edging out Mores Wells and Redwood in the Canadian International. And in the Grade One sprint on the same Woodbine card, Serious Attitude repaid Newmarket-based Rae Guest's perseverance by bouncing back to form with a timely victory. The filly's next date is in a US auction ring, rather than racecourse.
Juvenile 'wonder' horses
Timeform's highest-rated two-year-olds:
142 Windy City 1951
138 Celtic Swing 1994, Star Of India 1955
137 Apalachee 1973
135 Arazi 1991, Petingo 1967, La Tendresse 1961, Floribunda 1960
134 Sing Sing 1959, My Swallow 1970, Deep Diver 1971, Grundy 1974, Tromos 1978, Storm Bird 1980
133 Abernant 1948, Young Emperor 1965, Showdown 1963, Bold Lad 1966 Jacinth 1972, Diesis 1982
132 Nearula 1952, The Pie King 1953, Wind And Wuthering 1981, Huntingdale 1983, Reference Point 1986, Xaar 1997
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Royal Exchange (4.10 Pontefract)
Posted a creditable effort when third in a seven-furlong Group Three last time and can make it four from seven upped in distance and down in grade.
Lucy Limelites (2.10 Pontefract)
Her pedigree – by Medicean out of In The Limelight who won over a mile at two – says she will appreciate today's the step up in trip and she can also improve for better ground after two creditable efforts on soft.
One to watch
Cotillion (I Williams) found the two and a quarter miles of the Cesarewitch beyond him but travelled well until his stamina failed. He should continue his progress in less demanding marathons.
Where the money's going
After his Group One double with Frankel and Twice Over, who will be in training next year, Henry Cecil is 5-1 from 8-1 for the 2011 trainers' title with Ladbrokes.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Pantella (2.00 Windsor)
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