Magical memories of 2012 - Racing: 'Frankel enlarged life's comfort zone for us all'

22 August: Juddmonte International Stakes; Frankel finally goes the full distance

However fatuous and incorrigible the Turf's insistence on anointing each new champion as a colossus without precedent, you are on pretty safe ground in acclaiming Frankel as a thoroughbred at least to refresh the parameters of greatness. Admittedly, those in a position to measure his full capacity proved wary of doing so, and the fact that he never left British soil became a legitimate token of their reluctance to take him out of a comfort zone. But that is also why the moment that reinforced his magnificence most indelibly – and so defined the Flat season he bestrode – originated precisely in an overdue sense of adventure.

Finally, on what would prove the penultimate of his 14 starts, Frankel was risked over uncharted territory. Hitherto restricted to races over seven or eight furlongs, on 22 August he was asked to examine his stamina over 10 in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York. He had become so intimidating at shorter that he had last been seen landing odds of 1-20 to beat just three rivals, including his pacemaker, in the Sussex Stakes. Prior to that, he had produced the most visually stunning of his wins, dispatching his old rival Excelebration by the staggering margin of 11 lengths at Royal Ascot. But Excelebration, himself an elite performer by any conventional reckoning, had clearly had enough of being Frankel's punchbag. In trying to mix it with the titan, he so burnt himself out he could barely hold an everyday sort of rival for second.

By the time Frankel reached York, then, it seemed incumbent on him to disclose something. Inevitably, he would be tackling rivals who could not hope to match him for sheer quality. It would require some latent deficiency, in a less glamorous register, for Frankel to prove remotely vulnerable. Ultimately, the horse least embarrassed by the gulf in class would turn out to be the very same as the one who had chased him home in the Sussex Stakes three weeks previously. And the margin between them, this time, was little changed. Even so, the very fact that Frankel explored a new dimension of his brilliance – and with such familiar swagger – was enough to suffuse all those present with a renewed sense of wonder and privilege.

Throughout his career, his charisma had been intensified by a redemptive quality. Frankel's emergence had sealed the heart-warming resurgence of his trainer, Sir Henry Cecil, from bewildering professional vicissitudes. At the same time, however, Cecil had been reduced by the same deadly illness that claimed the life of Bobby Frankel, a trainer of equivalent standing in the United States, in whose honour the colt had been named. Cecil had been too frail to attend the Sussex Stakes, and his appearance at York permitted no illusions about the gravity of his condition. But the leisurely brio with which his greatest succour met this new challenge was not just a tonic for Cecil himself. All who witnessed his performance were united, not just by admiration and gladness for his trainer, but by a heightened sense of life's satisfactions on their own account.

Further reading:

Olympics: ‘Mo, Jess and Greg gave us a night no one could forget’ 4 August: That night in the Olympic Stadium - James Lawton

Football: ‘When Chelsea saw off Barcelona, the joy was in watching the spoilers have their day’ 24 April: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (agg 2-3); Champions League semi-final second leg - Sam Wallace

Athletics: ‘The roar for Ennis made the hair stand up on the back of my neck’ 3 August: Opening day of track and field at the Olympics - Simon Turnbull

Rugby Union: ‘It was eerie seeing England sticking it to the silver fern’ 1 December: Manu Tuilagi waltzes to the try line as England smash New Zealand- Chris Hewett

Cycling: 'Bradley Wiggins' achievement was greatest we have ever seen from a Briton' 22 July: Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France - Alasdair Fotheringham

Football: ‘We’ll never encounter anything quite like it again’ 13 May: Manchester City win the title in thrilling style - Ian Herbert

Football: ‘After losing the title in the cruellest way, Ferguson stood firm’ 13 May: United are denied the title in heart-breaking style Martin Hardy

Olympics: ‘Nobody personified it more than Hoy, the ultimate sportsman’ 27 July: Hoy leads out Team GB at the Games opening ceremony - Robin Scott-Elliot

Football: ‘An hour later Theo Walcott was a hero – given a standing ovation’ 26 February: Theo Walcott turns the jeers to cheers to steer Arsenal to derby victory - Glenn Moore

Golf: ‘This was it. The moment that would decide the Ryder Cup. A 10-footer for glory ... Get in!’ 30 September: Europe claim Ryder Cup in thrilling fashion - Kevin Garside

Boxing: ‘The fight was terrific from the first bell. It had urgency, nastiness' 14 July: David Haye v Dereck “Del Boy” Chisora - Steve Bunce

Tennis: ‘After Murray won he staggered in a daze, then held his head in his hands’ 11 September: Andy Murray ends Britain’s wait for a major - Paul Newman

Football: ‘That night Spain played thrilling, bold, beautiful football’  1 July: Beautiful Spain smash Italy in the Euro 2012 final - Jack Pitt-Brooke

Formula One: ‘Kimi’s Lotus win was F1’s most romantic result’  4 November: Kimi Raikkonen zooms to victory in Abu Dhabi - David Tremayne

Cricket: ‘A sweep for three and Cook had broken a 73-year-old landmark’  6 December: Alastair Cook breaks England century record - Ste

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