Chris McGrath: Planets aligned for Frankel to confirm greatness and cast aside the Aintree blues
Saturday 30 April 2011
Race horses reliably strip expectation down to hope, and hope to credulity.
How very precious, then, to find a champion who apparently obeys a destiny so consistent with the sort of flimsy, romantic longings we ordinarily see scattered like spring blossom in the last winds of winter. How rare to find a colt who so unites hearts and minds, as he addresses his moment of truth in the first Classic of the season at Newmarket today.
Frankel is named after one of the greatest trainers in American Turf history, who died of cancer 18 months ago; and has been prepared for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas by another horseman seemingly touched with genius. Henry Cecil, of course, has been fighting his own battle with the same disease that claimed Bobby Frankel. And if the latter was as obviously tough as anyone who ever emerged from the streets of Brooklyn, then this patrician rose gardener, with his murmuring, fey veneer, has proved himself made of very similar stuff. Since what had seemed an irretrievable nadir in 2005, when he mustered a bare dozen winners, Cecil has regrouped so thoroughly that he has a feasible chance of claiming an 11th trainers' championship this year.
A 25th British Classic today would represent a purposeful marker, but the benedictions vested in Frankel extend well beyond his immediate connections. For one thing, he arrives as the latest scion of the unprecedented dynasty established by Sadler's Wells, the record-breaking stallion who died on Tuesday, at the grand age of 30. Galileo, the sire of Frankel, is arguably the best stallion at Coolmore since his father became its bedrock.
Genes and genius apart, meanwhile, the sport finds itself urgently in need of succour after a difficult experience since Aintree earlier this month. And everything really does seem in place with Frankel. He remains unbeaten after a seamless resumption in his trial, at Newbury a fortnight ago, and has by all accounts continued to pulverise his hapless escorts on the gallops since.
In characteristic vein, at once modest and flippant, Cecil could be heard deprecating his "Edwardian" methods earlier in the week, marvelling at those trainers who ready a horse for the Guineas without a rehearsal. Unmistakably, however, he feels that the trip to Newbury had served his purpose, and that Frankel is precisely where he wants him.
No horse has been shorter odds for this race since Nijinsky, four decades ago, and you could hardly call Frankel value. It was only a year ago, after all, that another outstanding juvenile started hot favourite here before labouring into sixth. St Nicholas Abbey resurfaced for the first time since at the Curragh earlier this month, finishing third of six at 4-11.
With horses, you can never be certain. But the most plausible vulnerability in this one – a tendency to perilous exuberance – seems to have been redressed to Cecil's satisfaction. Indeed, he is even entertaining the possibility that Tom Queally will let his mount make the running, should the others not go fast enough for him to relax into that prodigious stride. Whether he might yet extend his brilliance over longer distances remains to be seen, but he has certainly developed physically from two to three, and Cecil feels he has done the same mentally.
Admittedly the favourite could not have been drawn further from Rerouted, who runs in the same ownership and is expected to guarantee the pace. But it is hard to perceive anything in the way of a tempting bet among those dividing them. True, Frankel is not the only unbeaten colt in the field. Fury impressed in seeing off a massive field here last autumn, while Pathfork shaded Casamento in a Group One at the Curragh. The latter, given an eighth furlong, proceeded to win the Racing Post Trophy and has since joined a trainer who has given Godolphin a much quicker start than in recent springs. But Casamento, reckoned a middle-distance type, was only diverted here from a Derby trial after his stable lost Dubai Prince to a setback.
Native Khan, fourth in the Racing Post Trophy, duly outclassed a modest field for the Craven on his reappearance over course and distance. But it is hard to imagine him giving Frankel more of a race than Roderic O'Connor, who asked the favourite the hardest question of his career in the Dewhurst last autumn. Another son of Galileo, Roderic O'Connor is related to an Ascot Gold Cup winner and may prove more of an Epsom colt.
Anyone still insisting on an each-way bet should consider Loving Spirit at 66-1. He looked smart on his debut here, probably found the race coming too soon when beaten next time, and his trainer is not the type to come here without reason.
For most of us, however, it will suffice to go to the Rowley Mile as nervous witnesses. You hardly need a wager, when the stakes are so high. Between the tragedy of his namesake, the legacy of his grandsire, and the marvellous endurance of his trainer, greatness already pervades the Frankel story. Now he must discover it within himself.
Tomorrow's Classic gives bookmakers fine chance to pay for Royal Wedding
Royal Wedding, primed for his big day by Nick Gifford, duly won a steeplechase at Fontwell yesterday. Whether swept along by a civic tide of benevolence, or by sheer avarice, bookmakers somehow allowed the horse to start at 4-1. William Hill estimated that the industry faced a payout of £2m.
You suspect they will get plenty back at Newmarket tomorrow. If the first Classic of the weekend looks open and shut, then the second is so open that it doesn't seem to have a door of any kind. The 19 fillies who line up for the Qipco 1,000 Guineas have little in common but the right to prove, for better or worse, a very different proposition from last year. Hooray, for instance, has already established her quality, but only as a precocious, bold-running sprinter. This is a whole new ball game. Make A Dance, conversely, graduates from maidens, but her work this spring has prompted heavy ante post support.
At 40-1, perhaps Empowering is worth a little each-way, as a lightly raced filly who has looked better with each start. Heavily backed for a Group Three race at Leopardstown last month, she coped readily with the drop in distance under an astute ride by her trainer's son. Joseph O'Brien will certainly not be overawed by his first mount in a British Classic, and the return to a mile will suit.
His father's patrons at Coolmore were never going to appoint a successor to Johnny Murtagh as stable jockey at Ballydoyle, so long as nobody represented a better option than using the best available. Ryan Moore fits that bill today, while young O'Brien, Colm O'Donoghue and Pat Smullen do service tomorrow.
Jamie Spencer rides Cape Blanco in the Prix Ganay at Longchamp today, and the American ace, Garrett Gomez, has been booked to ride Master Of Hounds in the Kentucky Derby next Saturday. "I'm excited the horse is coming over, he's got a good shot," Gomez said. "We've been waiting on Aidan O'Brien and Coolmore, because we think this horse is really live."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Grand Stitch (5.45 Thirsk)
Revealed speed as his forte when dropped in trip on the all-weather, and showed plenty of dash on his second start since returning from a break at Ripon last time. Could last all the way.
Dubai Dynamo (4.10 Thirsk)
Like so many in his stable, well treated after a spell in the doldrums and can contribute to the revival here – caught out behind a quickening pace last time, and been badly hampered when poised to challenge before that.
One To Watch
Flowing Cape (Reg Hollinshead) is worth another chance despite failing to get past when produced to land a gamble at Leicester yesterday.
Where The Money's Going
William Hill punters clearly don't rate Frankel a Derby horse, yesterday forcing cuts to Seville (8-1 from 9-1) and Roderic O'Connor (10-1 from 12-1).
Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax
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