He has nothing to fear but fear itself. The very fact that Frankel returns at all, of course, must be counted auspicious in that regard.
In keeping his unbeaten champion in training, however, Prince Khalid Abdullah does not merely prolong a sense of privilege in the racing public. Potentially he also permits Frankel scope to measure more fully a talent that has been depicted as nearly limitless, despite a fairly limited theatre of operation to date. To that end, it must be hoped that his immaculate career hitherto does not itself become any kind of burden.
Today Frankel begins his third campaign at Newbury, just as he did his second. He will be set a very familiar task in the JLT Lockinge Stakes, with the opposition headed by the same colt who followed him home in the Greenham Stakes last spring – and, indeed, in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, at the other end of his season. On each occasion, Excelebration was beaten by four lengths.
Both colts doubtless made plenty of progress in the interim, but it is good to know that connections are disposed to try Frankel over a different trip at some stage. For it is one thing to acclaim him as the best turf miler we have seen in many a year; quite another, to suggest he has had no peers in any discipline during that time. To establish the reach of his greatness, he is going to have to take a few risks.
It would be no disaster, with that in mind, if he happened to shed that unblemished record today. For these things tend to generate their own, artificial pressures, and so discourage a due sense of adventure. Certainly he would be easily exonerated if below his best, having been held up in his preparation last month. In contrast, his old rival has already got a race under his belt – his first, moreover, since being transferred from Marco Botti to Aidan O'Brien. And while Botti abundantly confirmed his own, emerging talent in his handling of Excelebration, the colt's new trainer could hardly be better qualified to profit from his physical maturity.
It looks like now or never, then, for Excelebration, though the overwhelming likelihood remains that it will be never. You would feel a little grubby, anyhow, to take on Frankel with a bet. And Sir Henry Cecil seems satisfied that the colt has made light of that 10-day hiatus in his schedule. "I feel he has done enough to give a good account of himself," the trainer said. "One thing I am pretty sure about is that he will come on for the race, and be a stronger and more settled horse this year. He's got a lot of energy. It may take a race to sort him out, but I think as time goes on, like last year, he'll settle well."
Plainly, it makes sense for Frankel to persevere at this trip first time out, when likely to be fresh and exuberant. But Cecil hopes to try him over 10 furlongs this summer – and those of us eager to see the bar raised higher will meanwhile keep an interested eye on the Preakness Stakes, second leg of the American Triple Crown. You would go a long way to see Bodemeister try to burn off Frankel with the pace he showed in the Kentucky Derby, albeit his jockey palpably overdid things there. The poor creature has only had a fortnight to get over that, but deserves the chance to avenge himself on I'll Have Another.
It would be a fairly momentous day for Warren Place, even without Frankel. The champion's brother, Noble Mission, could yet enter the Investec Derby reckoning in a listed race at Newmarket, while two other Epsom entries get the chance to make their class tell in handicaps: Thomas Chippendale in the Blue Square London Gold Cup at Newbury, and Wrotham Heath in the last at Newmarket. Both these colts look impossible for bookmakers to assess, and any leniency should be exploited.
Red Cadeaux, runner-up in the Melbourne Cup, gave jockey Tom McLaughlin the biggest success of his career in the Sportingbet Yorkshire Cup on the final day of the Dante meeting at York, much to the delight of Ed Dunlop. "This horse has improved phenomenally as he's got older," the trainer said of his six-year-old. "I'm very proud of the horse, and the team, and I'm particularly pleased for Tom. He's been a huge part of this horse's career. He'll race on until Royal Ascot, and then he'll have a holiday before going back to Australia."
At Newbury, Momentary won a listed race under Hayley Turner in the royal silks. Fourth in a maiden on her only previous start, she is not in the Oaks but Michael Bell intends to train her for the Ribblesdale Stakes at Ascot.
Chris McGrath's Nap
High Jinx (3.55 Newmarket)
Thomas Chippendale (3.05 Newbury)