'Duel on the Downs' will prove the worth of Cecil's jewel Frankel
Privilege tends to bring its own burdens, and there must be times when Tom Queally wonders whether even the horse of a lifetime can be worth quite so many fleeting irritations. In what amounts to the most momentous test of their respective abilities, so far, Queally is charged with preserving Frankel's unbeaten record at Goodwood today. And seldom can any jockey have been preceded into a big race by such a clamour of unsolicited, thumbs-behind-braces opinion.
Phlegmatic fellow that he is, Queally professes indifference to the criticism he prompted with his aggressive tactics on Frankel at Royal Ascot last month. Even so, he has not wholly suppressed an air of vexation, at least, and Sir Henry Cecil will be hoping that his stable jockey does not betray some latent, simmering tension in his showdown with Richard Hughes and Canford Cliffs in the Qipco Sussex Stakes.
The fact that the race is contested by just four runners has only heightened intrigue about tactics. Queally has injected all the pace into Frankel's two latest races, catching everyone out by opening up a lead of 10 lengths through the first half of the 2,000 Guineas, and then making that frantic early move in the St James's Palace Stakes. Understandably, the colt seemed low on fuel in the closing stages, and his trainer admits that things had not panned out ideally.
"Let's face it, the race went wrong, didn't it?" Cecil said. "That's all there is to it. Hopefully, this race will go right. A horse won't gallop for ever, will it? This horse is determined. If he's asked to go, he'll gallop. He's very willing, wants to go and do it. He was bit too willing, at one time. But he is growing up an awful lot now, is a lot more settled, thanks to Shane Featherstonehaugh, who rides him at home. I hope in future he'll impress people another way."
Frankel's performance in the Guineas had such epoch-making éclat that you wondered, at Ascot, whether his mystique might be becoming a little perilous – that everyone would expect him to put on a show, every time. Certainly, there is something innately theatrical about Frankel, with his poignant antecedents, immaculate record and physical flair. Now that he meets a formidable older rival, however, it would be nice to think that Frankel's maturing disposition will permit Queally to ride a straightforward, fairly conventional race.
Contrary to the consensus, after all, Frankel may well be a more adaptable partner now than Canford Cliffs. It seems certain that Hughes will deploy his mount's turn of foot fairly late, much as he did in this race last year, or when beating the mighty Goldikova at Ascot last month. But if Canford Cliffs can only be ridden that way, then it is Queally who holds all the aces. If Frankel settles, so that the two can strike for home together, he could well beat Canford Cliffs at his own game.
Twelve months ago, Canford Cliffs was able to beat the previous year's winner, Rip Van Winkle, in receipt of 8lb weight-for-age. The boot is on the other foot now and if Frankel (3.10) is indeed as talented a horse as Cecil has trained, then only true greats of the modern era could even hope to give him 8lb and a beating.
Cecil has never seen a stride like Frankel's. "He's extraordinary to watch," he said. "He covers a lot of ground with that tremendous stride in front. But behind he's slightly shorter, more sprinter-type. He has two things in one. If he had a normal stride behind, you'd probably find he had one pace, and wouldn't quicken. Buying a yearling, I always look for a lovely walker – the ones that really put their hocks underneath them. There's some power there, you know? A lot of time you'll get a lovely horse [that way] but other times you'll get a lovely mover that stays for ever – but he doesn't quicken. This horse, with his stride, he stays and quickens."
The fascination of this race is completed by the fact that both central protagonists are in such admired, seasoned hands. Richard Hannon was champion trainer in 1992; Cecil won his 10th title the following season. It was only last year that Canford Cliffs helped restore Hannon to the top of his profession. And Cecil, of course, has made a perfectly astonishing comeback, even as he has fought the same sickness that claimed Bobby Frankel – the American trainer in whose memory this colt was named.
"This race, it's important the best horse wins," Cecil said. "If Canford Cliffs beats him fair and square, I shall be the first person to go up to Richard and say 'Well done'. But I'm hoping he's going to be doing that to me. You like a challenge, it's exciting. I respect Canford Cliffs, he's strong opposition. But I'm happy with the horse I've got."
Chris McGrath's Nap
Miss Diagnosis (5.30 Goodwood) Up 9lb for her stylish win at Newbury, but that was only her fourth start and the form has begun to work out well.
Spirit Of Adjisa (2.0 Goodwood) Has been thriving over jumps since joining this yard, winning a Grade One Hurdle at Punchestown, and looks well treated for his return to the Flat.
One to watch
Powerful Presence (David O'Meara) Has not finished his improvement for his new trainer, burning off reckless competition up front at York on Saturday and holding out for second as the pack pounced.
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