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The Stud: Why retirement will be a full-time job for Frankel

The most successful horse in recent memory will never race again. But, as Charlie Cooper discovers on a visit to a stud farm, his legendary staying power will not be wasted…

Do we hear the clatter of tiny hoofs? Frankel, the finest racehorse of his generation, if not ever, this week bowed out after the 14th consecutive victory of an unblemished career. His trainer, the great Sir Henry Cecil, called him “the best I’ve ever seen” and the racing community wasted no time in dubbing him “the greatest”.

No wonder, then, that before the saddle was off young Frankel’s back, talk began of his future career – as potentially the most lucrative stud horse in history.

For a horse that is just four years old, the prospect of having to service a queue of the world’s most strapping mares is bound to be a little daunting. The best stallions are required to mate four times a day – or up to 120 times in a season – with a large audience in attendance. Over a lifetime, Frankel could sire hundreds of foals, any one of whom could be a champion racer.

The best thoroughbreds earn impressively on the track – Frankel has brought home £3m for his Saudi owner, Prince Khalid Abdullah – but it is at the stud that they attract the greatest sums.

Two minutes of passion with Frankel will likely cost in the region of £100,000 – placing his potential career value at £100m. Already, owners from around the world are lining up their mares to meet him.

Frankel’s more lucrative second career will commence, appropriately enough, on St Valentine’s Day 2013, when the stud season begins. He will be stabled at his birthplace at Banstead Manor Stud in Suffolk.

The scale of the challenge facing Frankel becomes apparent on a visit to Whitsbury Manor Stud, 600 acres of prime Hampshire countryside, where they have been turning out thoroughbreds since 1948.

Ed Harper, the stud director, says that for any new stallion, the first thing he must get used to is female horses.

“It will all be new to him,” he said. “In the racing stables he will have been kept apart from the fillies. It’s a big change for a horse, from being intentionally separated from the opposite sex, to being intentionally thrown in with them. He will have to learn what they are about very quickly.”

Frankel’s first lessons in carnal aptitude will take place in a specially designed stable known as a covering shed (covering being the technical term for equine copulation).

If he is hoping for a chance to swap phone numbers first, he will be disappointed. “It’s very unromantic,” Mr Harper said. “There are two doors to the covering shed. The mare comes in one door, she is checked out to see if  she’s ready, her backside is washed down, and then she is led to the teasing board.”

The teasing board is one of the less elegant parts of the process.

Before a thoroughbred stallion is allowed near a mare, breeders must find out whether she’s in the mood. If she is not, she is liable to kick out at any lusty suitor – potentially doing millions of pounds’ worth of damage. “A double-barrel kick with both hind feet – that could kill you,” Mr Harper pointed out.

So, another stallion, known as the tease, is brought in. Every stud has a collection of teases – selected from among the friskiest but least valuable horses on the farm. These tend also to be the small ones.

At Whitsbury, their champion tease is a brooding little Welsh pony called Captain – complete with a black forelock, stormy eyes and fire in his loins.

The tease is led into a stable behind the teasing board – a thick, reinforced panel over which he can get a look at the mare. The mare will become aware of his amorous – yet ultimately futile – advances. If she is not in the mood, she lashes out at the teasing board, telling a breeder in certain terms that now is not the time to bring his prize stallion trotting in. If she fancies it, she remains docile. Either way, “poor old teaser doesn’t get any nookie,” as Mr Harper put it.

For the main event, three people are required to manage proceedings – one to hold the mare, one to hold the stallion and another to “help him get an accurate shot”, as Mr Harper delicately phrased it.

Whitsbury’s veteran stallion, Compton Place, has sired more than 500 race winners. At a rate of 120 coverings a year over 12 years, at £6,000 a go, he has done his owners proud.

Frankel, of course, is in another league of earning potential. But there are no guarantees in the game of breeding horses. Although Frankel has an excellent pedigree (his father was the 2001 Epsom Derby winner, Galileo, and his grandfather the leading sire Sadler’s Wells), some champions have proved infertile. In 1996, American racing waited with bated breath for the highest-earning horse in history, Cigar, to begin his stud career – but he never sired a foal.

Mr Harper, though, is upbeat. “Frankel is the pinnacle of what we as breeders have been doing for 300 years,” he said. “He ticks every box: the pedigree, the looks, the heart capacity, the lung capacity – the sky really is the limit for the foals he might produce.”


The Darley Arabian foaled 1700, died 1730

The single horse from which an estimated 95 per cent of modern thoroughbreds are descended, the Darley Arabian stood 15 hands high.

Northern Dancer foaled 1961, died 1990

The legendary Canadian sire was Frankel’s great-grandfather. He commanded record fees of $1m per cover. Although he died in 1990 at the age of 29, many of today’s top racers are in his bloodline.

Storm Cat foaled 1983

A grandson of Northern Dancer, veteran American stud horse Storm Cat is reported to have had a 24-hour armed guard.

Cigar foaled 1990

One of the US’s finest racers in history, Cigar won 16 consecutive races and earned his owner nearly $10m in winnings. But he was a non-starter at the stud, proving infertile and never siring a single foal.