Chris McGrath: Frankel will merit his name only when he zaps ghosts of greats in Breeders' Cup
It is instructive of his standing that Sir Henry Cecil has been so readily indulged with his tribute to Frankel as perhaps the greatest thoroughbred in history. As was manifest in those jubilant scenes at Goodwood on Wednesday, Cecil is not merely respected. He is adored.
And his return from personal and professional oblivion has wreathed his unbeaten champion in a messianic mystique. Likewise, the fact that the colt was named in memory of another great trainer, Bobby Frankel, whose more obviously gritty nature could not save him from the same disease that has disclosed unsuspected fortitude in Cecil.
It is understandable, then, that so many should be prepared to assent to his judgement, after the Sussex Stakes, that Frankel is better than any horse in memory. But the fact is that any such claim is inherently silly. Strictly, even Cecil is only qualified to say that Frankel is superior to his 24 previous Classic winners. For the rest of us, however, it is pointless to pronounce him better than even very recent champions, such as Sea The Stars. Otherwise a broader audience, told yet again that the latest paragon is the best ever, will be entitled to disparage the sport as culpably excitable.
Frankel is a bewitching and brilliant talent. And it is thrilling that Khalid Abdullah will keep him in training – especially because we can gain a meaningful sense of his place in the pantheon only by a more thorough exploration of his gifts. Whether or not you buy the theory that Canford Cliffs was not himself on Wednesday, the fact is that Frankel has yet to be presented with a test that divulges his capacity to deal with adversity. And you may rest assured that those challenges are out there.
The trouble is that changes to the calendar, made largely by arrogant newcomers, have conspired against him meeting them. Organisers of the new Champions' Day at Ascot are congratulating themselves over the appointment already made for Frankel on 15 October. In reality, they may have clipped the wings of Pegasus.
Abdullah's team suspect that their own race, the Juddmonte International, will come too soon. And certainly it makes sense to give a break to a colt who began his season with a Guineas trial. But they must wait two and a half months for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. It seems ludicrous to bring a horse back to his peak, so late in the season, for barely 100 seconds of racing – and then rough him off again. Unfortunately, the rescheduling of his next target, from its traditional slot in September, means they would be left with just three weeks before the Breeders' Cup.
In 2008, Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator finished first and second in both the QEII (on its old date) and the Breeders' Cup Classic. If the people behind Champions' Day feel they have achieved something – in discouraging Frankel from a crack at the same double, so that he can beat a handful of the same horses, over the same trip, at odds of 1-10 – then it is important they don't deceive themselves anyone should be the slightest bit grateful.
Abdullah and Cecil have already indicated a willingness to target the Breeders' Cup with Frankel as a four-year-old. Cecil was unimpressed with the turf course at Churchill Downs last year, and was always going to be reluctant to let Frankel near the place when the series returns there in November. But he has presumably been thinking only of the Mile. And, if Frankel really has no precedent, he should instead be looking at the Classic.
His pace, balance and stride have long suggested that Frankel would be sensational on dirt. If connections are fearful of losing his immaculate record on an alien surface, then it has become as much of a burden as a distinction. Without testing his versatility moreover, they have little business acclaiming him as anything more than an exceptional turf miler.
Three weeks is still a feasible interval and there should be ample fuel left in the tank. Raven's Pass started off in a Guineas trial too, and then took in the same three Group Ones as has Frankel this season – except he also squeezed in another one at Chantilly, between Ascot and Goodwood. He then won the Celebration Mile, before going on to the QEII and California. If anything, Henrythenavigator had an even tougher schedule.
These two were privileged to contest a Breeders' Cup Classic on a synthetic surface. But it was still a new frontier, of the sort that completes status in elite Flat racing – which, to those with a proper understanding, owes its credibility to a truly international programme.
If they want a fitting memorial to Bobby Frankel, Abdullah and Cecil know their duty. Because if his namesake sits out the Classic, Bobby will be looking down and shaking his head. You can almost hear those punchy Brooklyn tones: "Best horse ever, huh?"
In 2004, Bobby won the Classic with Ghostzapper. He had never raced over 10 furlongs, but blasted off in front and left top-class horses strewn behind him like burnt-out cars. His time (1min 59.02sec) was a track and race record.
Ghostzapper was kept in training too, but retired in June with an injury. Horses permit few guarantees. Frankel may never get to the Breeders' Cup next year. Here's one certainty, though. You really want to impress Bobby? Then don't measure this horse against phantoms, but against the example of Ghostzapper.
Midday can regain place in the sun with Nassau win
Having already won the meeting's other Group One prize, connections of Frankel can today end a memorable Goodwood in style with a third consecutive success for Midday in the Markel Insurance Nassau Stakes. They are positive something must have been amiss when she was thrashed by Misty For Me at the Curragh last time, and her proven aptitude for this course and distance on fast ground means she merits another chance against the same filly. Midday had previously confirmed herself as good as ever when taking on colts in the Coronation Cup at Epsom, having St Nicholas Abbey in big trouble before idling and being worn down late.
Snow Fairy will perhaps be peaking later in the year, while Crystal Capella, having impressed at a tier below, must break new ground against the winners of 13 Group One races. MIDDAY (3.10) accounts for five of those.
A new member of the elite volunteered himself yesterday when Harbour Watch extended his unbeaten record to three in the Tanqueray Richmond Stakes – a fifth consecutive success in the race for Richard Hannon. Harbour Watch, who did well to regroup and beat Bannock a couple of lengths after being carried wide, is now widely quoted at 12-1 for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas. Like Canford Cliffs, he carries the colours of Robin Heffer but was greeted in the winner's enclosure by Sheikh Fahad, who has bought a stake in the colt.
Hannon is adamant that he will get a mile, while Richard Hughes reckons he would have won by five lengths with a clear passage. "I prefer them to prove it on the track," the jockey added. "But Canford Cliffs was the only other two-year-old we've had that worked like he did the other morning."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Crown Choice (3.45 Goodwood)
Unexposed at this trip, having run creditably back over a seventh furlong, and made impressive reconnaissance over course and distance in May.
Lay Time (2.20 Newmarket)
Sole, promising run at two proved strong form and made a smooth reappearance over course and distance. Looks dangerously handicapped as a well-bred filly for a thriving stable.
One To Watch
Sunday Times (Peter Chapple-Hyam) belongs to a decent team of juveniles and shaped well on her debut at Goodwood on Wednesday, making strong ground on the outside before just flattening out into fourth.
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