Frankel can crown season in QEII
Cecil colt the perfect medium to heal sport's self-inflicted wounds on Champions Day
Well, it is not as if Frankel's rider has ever had any real need of a whip. And if ever the sport needed reminding that its greatest blessing is the unadorned glory of a champion thoroughbred, it will be when this paragon lines up for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot today.
For if Frankel can efface the scandalous self-harm perpetrated by the racing authorities this week, he will surpass all the challenges he has hitherto met with such messianic flair.
Even as it was, we had already reached the stage in this colt's immaculate career where the stakes had come to seem unbearably high. But remember that it was in only in her first defeat that Zenyatta, the great American mare, truly completed her legend when bowing out at the Breeders' Cup last year. No doubt Frankel will some day be set too tall an order – through the way a race is run, or simply through the demands made by a change of distance or surface. And he will be no less an animal for that. It is just that it would be pretty surprising were he to reach that crisis today.
It is true that three-year-olds who have been on the go since the spring can reach the bottom of the tank quite quickly at this time of year. But Frankel (3.35) has had 11 weeks off since the Sussex Stakes, and his masterly trainer will have freshened up both the colt's mind and his magnificent body.
At the odds, admittedly, only a reckless punter could be wholly complacent about Immortal Verse, who outpaced a really deep field – headed by Goldikova herself – at Deauville in August. It remains to be seen, however, whether she is quite so effective on this firmer terrain. And while Excelebration has improved since the spring, the bottom line is that he has been left standing by Frankel in two previous encounters.
If this race turns into a lap of honour, then nobody will have any complaints. There seems little prospect of the same, anyhow, in a desperately competitive race for the Qipco Champion Stakes itself. The huge purse has seduced Snow Fairy and So You Think for a third consecutive match-up, after finishing third and fourth respectively in the Arc just 13 days ago. So You Think was left with too much to do, after being dropped out from a wide draw, but both horses had a hard race and will have to be every bit as resilient as their trainers protest to show their best so soon afterwards. Nathaniel must raise his game, dropped in trip on fast ground, and it may yet prove that the race conforms to the trends established in its old home at Newmarket – where you were often best off with a fresh horse, or a French one. Dubai Prince qualifies as the former, albeit with a very tricky draw for an inexperienced horse; but Cirrus Des Aigles (4.10) looks solid value as the latter, with Christophe Soumillon taking over. After a 10-length romp at Deauville, he led travelling well at Longchamp last time but was just worried out of it by a smart one receiving 4lb.
Fame And Glory returns to the scene of his Gold Cup success in the opener, but his fortunes since are in marked contrast to those of the upwardly mobile Times Up (1.50), while Deacon Blues (2.25) looks another rising star in a very different discipline. Vita Nova, meanwhile, has obvious prospects of boosting morale for Frankel's trainer and jockey, but Banimpire (3.00) may be underestimated, restored to this trip after returning from a break last time.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Banimpire (3.00 Ascot)
Recent Longchamp form gives her every chance but a break in her hectic schedule beforehand means this Bolger filly could even improve for the run back over her best trip.
Deacon Blues (2.25 Ascot)
Much his toughest task to date but the way his form has taken off means that he must be persevered with now at any level, until beaten.
One To Watch
Dissent (Gerard Butler) burst clear more or less under his own steam at Kempton on Wednesday and, having not beaten much on paper, can hardly be given too stiff a handicap.
Where the money's going
William Hill offer 3-1 against Frankel retiring unbeaten, and 16-1 that So You Think can win both the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot today and the Breeders' Cup Classic three weeks later.
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