Sir Henry Cecil, suavely clad yesterday in slimline, dark trousers and a black sweater with a high polo neck, looked as if he might have just left a box of chocolates and a silhouette calling card on a pillow. The delivery he must make at Ascot on Saturday, though, is charged with infinitely more tension and importance, as he is perfectly aware.
In four days' time Cecil will take this season's wonder horse, Frankel, to the Berkshire track for the inaugural British Champions Day, which is, with its £3m in purses, the richest card ever staged in this country. Khalid Abdullah's magnificent, unbeaten colt is long odds-on to win the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and is rated by Timeform 12lb clear of any of the nine possible rivals declared yesterday.
But despite the three-year-old's apparent invincibility, his trainer was still taking nothing for granted as he faced the media en masse for the last time before the big one. Every time talk turned to an assumption of victory, he countered with a verbal knock on wood. "It's important, for this day and for the sport, that we have a real champion," he said. "Arkle, Desert Orchid, Sea The Stars, and maybe Frankel, these horses come into people's lives.
"But there's no such thing as a good thing. 'Ought to' and 'will' are two very different things." Indeed; the peerless Brigadier Gerard, for instance, famously lost his unbeaten record as a 1-3 shot.
Frankel may have the assistance of a pacemaker, his older brother Bullet Train, in the £1m contest on Ascot's straight mile but Newmarket-based Cecil is keeping tactical cards pretty close to his chest. "He's done it before, but I don't particularly want Frankel to have to make the running this time," he said. "It's hard on him, and would not be the best thing for him. None of us want it to be a crawl and then a sprint, so a pacemaker could help the race.
"We haven't really decided yet what to do, whether we want to outspeed them or outstay them. But Bullet Train will be there if I need him."
Ladbrokes have introduced a QEII market without Frankel, headed by the Marco Botti-trained Excelebration, having his third crack at the crack, and the French filly Immortal Verse, who has yet to meet him, at 2-1.
"Mine is in great form, and worked really well on Saturday," added Cecil. "He is stronger than he has ever been, I'm very happy with him and I hope that he'll do on the day what people expect him to do. But no race is ever a formality and I have, and must have, the greatest respect for the opposition."
Chris McGrath's Nap Thought Worthy (2.00 Newcastle)
Brother to the high-class Lucarno, who handled easy ground, and from the in-form John Gosden yard, which is full of juvenile talent.
Next best Natural Action (3.50 Huntingdon)
Easy winner on his fencing debut and was putting in a good effort next time out at Stratford when favourite, only to fall at the last.
One to watch A decent prize surely awaits the eight-year-old sprinter Barney McGrew (Michael Dods), third at York on Saturday, off his current mark.
Where the money's going Opinion Poll is 2-1 favourite to turn the tables on his Gold Cup conqueror Fame And Glory in the Long Distance Cup back at Ascot on Saturday.Reuse content