Frankel seals greatness with fighting victory
Champion makes light of heavy going in farewell race by showing fighting quality to take unbeaten run to 14 races against top opposition
It was not his most flamboyant performance, but could be considered his most definitive. Despite a slow start, despite the most testing underfoot conditions he has faced, and despite the presence against him of two top-notch rivals, Frankel brought his magnificent racing career to a close here with his 14th victory from as many runs.
The four-year-old's retirement was confirmed by his owner and breeder, the 75-year-old Saudi Arabian prince Khalid Abdullah, after the QIPCO Champion Stakes, which is probably just as well. Not even Frank Sinatra would have had the gall to come back after the build-up to yesterday's valediction and the ovation from a sell-out 32,384 hearts as he passed the post clear of French crack Cirrus Des Aigles, was led back in triumph to the winner's circle and then completed an unprecedented two laps of honour round the parade ring.
It was a farewell to ol' brown eyes worthy of his extraordinary talent, for Frankel leaves the stage as one of the very best thoroughbreds ever to look through a bridle. His exact place on the pantheon will forever be a matter of debate, with perhaps the most difficult task faced by those who have to reduce art to science by producing ratings.
But some of his imperious romps – his 2,000 Guineas last year, his Queen Anne Stakes in June – are right up there on visceral judgement with Sea Bird's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Secretariat's Belmont Stakes, Dancing Brave's Arc, Dubai Millenium's Dubai World Cup. And in Cecil's admittedly biased view, they are beyond. "I can't believe in the history of racing there has been a better horse," he said. "I've enjoyed every moment of training him, though I have to admit it has been stressful at times."
Early in his career, Frankel's Achilles heel was his well-documented hot-headedness, a trait so skilfully harnessed and gentled by Cecil and his team, particularly workrider Shane Fetherstonehaugh, at Warren Place. Yesterday their success in that sphere provided one last moment of worry, as Frankel, the 2-11 favourite, missed the break and consequently his habitual position in his pacemaker Bullet Train's slipstream.
Rider Tom Queally had to roust him a little, while being careful not to expend undue energy while making ground in testing conditions on only his second step up to ten furlongs. But though only fourth into the home straight, Frankel was by then travelling sweetly and settled the matter as he quickened past confirmed mudlark Cirrus Des Aigles, last year's winner, before the final furlong. "There's no doubt he's better on better ground," said Queally, "but his class and his great racing heart showed today. It just showed the sort of horse we are dealing with and I'd put this up there with some of his best efforts."
Frankel's record places him high on the all-time numerical pantheon and though quantity is not always the same as quality – Peppers Pride, for instance, won 19 in low-grade company, for instance – there is no doubting Frankel's excellence. His wins include ten at the highest level; Cirrus des Aigles and third-placed Nathaniel have won five of those between them and his five-time victim over a mile, Excelebration, put that division to the sword in yesterday's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
Those drawn by Frankel for a look into racing for the first time might ask why a supreme athlete, so measurably better than the rest, is being retired in his physical pomp. The answer is not that he has nothing left to prove, but that he is too valuable to risk on the racecourse any more.
For although on one level racing is a sport, what we see on the track is – at elite levels at least – merely part of the much bigger industry picture. Frankel now belongs to the bloodstock world, where his potential earnings will dwarf what he has picked up in action. He has won some £3.2 million in three seasons' racing, including £737,000 yesterday. Next spring, if he has – say – 120 mates paying £85,000 apiece, he will generate £10.2 million.
Frankel will soon make the short journey from Warren Place back to his birthplace, Abdullah's flagship stallion station Banstead Manor Stud, where he will be the new boy alongside Britain's two best established stallions Dansili and Oasis Dream. His first crop of foals will not race until 2016, but then a large part of racing's attraction is its generation game conveyor belt.
Whether or not he succeeds in his second career, he leaves a legacy of the best of memories from his first. Especially for 28-year-old Queally, to whom the son of Galileo has given some spine-tingling moments. "He's been the biggest chapter in my life," he said, "and although there has been pressure, I don't get too nervous because I'm close to it and have control over what goes on. And I can think of harder things than being Frankel's jockey in the grand scale of things.
"I'm so proud of having been associated with him. I took him down in front of the grandstands after the race an extra few hundred yards, not only to let the crowd see him and soak it all in, but so I could have another 20 seconds on his back."
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