Frankel the best now – perhaps ever
After the customary rituals of debriefing and congratulation, the course announcer intoned the standard formula to clear the unsaddling enclosure: "Horses away, horses away." The placed runners were dutifully led off, but Frankel himself lingered for more photographs alongside his trainer, Sir Henry Cecil. It was as though he were awaiting some less generic category. For in surpassing even his 10 previous wins, with an astonishing 11-length annihilation of his rivals in the first race of this year's Royal Ascot, Frankel had potentially isolated himself as the apex of 300 years in thoroughbred eugenics.
"He's not normal," Sir Peter O'Sullevan pronounced. "He's extraterrestrial." The nonagenarian described many great winners here, during his long career as a BBC commentator. Doubtless he wondered how even Black Caviar, Australia's own unbeaten phenomenon, could redeem the rest of the meeting's five days from anticlimax.
Within an hour, two more Group One prizes had been claimed – one by adventurers from Hong Kong, with Little Bridge; another, his first on British soil since 2006, by Kieren Fallon on Most Improved. But Frankel demeaned even these romances. He asked to be measured only against the immeasurable, against spectral ancestors or paragons unborn.
It is now time, admittedly, to explore new dimensions of his supremacy in the here and now. In the Queen Anne Stakes, after all, he beat a rival he had bludgeoned four times already over a mile, the hapless Excelebration. This time, however, he so extended the margin between them that he still contrived dramatic new ground. Settled behind his pacemaker by Tom Queally, Frankel was angled wide approaching two furlongs out and bounded clear with almost primeval energy. It took another three furlongs for Queally to pull him up. This was not so much a horse, as the epitome of his breed. This was Horse.
Timeform, the respected ratings organisation, provisionally anointed his display as the best in their 64-year history. A rating of 147 puts Frankel 2lb higher than Sea-Bird, and 7lb clear of recent champions such as Sea The Stars and Dubai Millennium.
Cecil dismissed all pretensions to science as too clumsy. "To me, it's all double Dutch," he said. "I don't understand how you can compare horses from different generations, different countries, different distances. People have seen him, and they can judge for themselves. I'll leave all that to everyone else. But I know what I think."
The redemptive quality in Frankel's emergence should not be debased by its familiarity. As the 74th winner of his trainer's record-breaking Royal Ascot career, he seals a resurrection from private and professional oblivion itself with few precedents on the Turf. Whatever afflictions may yet await Cecil, in his own body, he plainly cherishes Frankel as some kind of mysterious, enchanted reward for the way he has purged his spirit of its own, accompanying poisons.
He expressed due gratitude to the patron who never failed him, even in the darkest days. Prince Khalid Abdullah was at a funeral yesterday in Saudi Arabia, and would lose The Nile in a horrible fall later on the card, but Cecil suspects the prince's decision to keep Frankel in training could yield greater dividends yet. "I think he's still improving," he said. "He will definitely stay a mile and a quarter but I'll let him tell me when to try it. I won't tell him. He's in charge."
He did raise the possibility that Frankel might take that step into the unknown as soon as the Coral Eclipse Stakes, a fortnight on Saturday. But the more likely option is the Juddmonte International, at York in August, via another lap of honour in the Qipco Sussex Stakes at Goodwood. Sadly, despite Abdullah's affection for the Breeders' Cup, Cecil seems resolutely against taking Frankel to a more challenging environment abroad. "We've all the races we need here," he said. "Why drag him round the world?"
Most Improved might yet go for the Sussex, after finding compensation in the St James's Palace Stakes for the spring setback that counted him out of the Guineas. His trainer, Brian Meehan, said he had asked himself two questions. "On the way here I did allow myself to think about the Sussex, but who wants to be the horse that beats Frankel?" the Manton trainer said. "And who could beat him?"
Sea-Bird, perhaps? "Think of the horses he ridiculed in the 1965 Arc," O'Sullevan said. "One's seen some amazing horses, over the years. But Frankel is certainly breathtaking. Definitely worth staying alive for."
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