For every horse you hope there will be a season. For Frankel there have been three of them; fourteen races unbeaten and in many ways he saved the best, the completest until the last. If you had to put a seal on greatness, the demanding shoulder of the Ascot hill and the deep and testing grounds of late October was the perfect spot.
So are all the arguments of his place in the pantheon over? For the past few weeks we pundits have been overloading the airways with views of Frankel’s merit relative to the mightiest horses in our experience. We have debated the likes of Ribot, Sea Bird, Nijinsky, Brigadier Gerard, Mill Reef. Dancing Brave and Sea The Stars, not to mention Secretariat, the extraordinary American phenomenom who in 1973 tore up the record books when he stormed to their Triple Crown climaxing in a 25 length Belmont Stakes victory in 2minutes 24 seconds a time that still stands. Yesterday morning the BHA’s Head of Handicapping stated that Frankel would have to beat Cirrus des Aigles by at least six lengths to be rated superior to Dancing Brave’s magnificent victory in the 1986 Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe. So yesterday’s length and three quarter’s verdict over the super tough French six year old was not officially enough and cool analysis has also to accept other comparisons.
For instance it is hard to state that Frankel was as majestic as Nijinsky when a two year old. That his Two Thousand Guineas, for all its runaway brilliance, had anything like Mill Reef amongst its rivals as Brigadier Gerard’s did in 1971. That his three year old career, confined only to races over a mile, was in any way as demanding as that of Mill Reef who went on to win the Eclipse over a mile and a quarter followed by both the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth over a mile and a half. And what about Sea The Stars who for six months in 2009 won a Group One event every month for six months starting with the 2,000 Guineas in May and ending with the Arc de Triomphe in October ?
But what Frankel delivered was something else and in reflection even more impressive. For in race after race and, unlike Nijinsky, Dancing Brave or even Mill Reef, for three full seasons, he blew all others away. Tom Queally would send him on fully a quarter mile out and immediately both fans and rivals knew the game was over. For a while it was possible to argue that all he was doing was beating horses like Excelebration to whom he had long proved himself superior. The fallacy of that was finally underlined yesterday when Frankel’s own triumph was preceded by a dazzling victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes by Excelebration himself.
Frankel seared images into the retina that will never fade. He was not as tall or classically handsome as the likes of Sea The Stars or Nijinsky, but there was something predatory about his stride even at the walk, and at full gallop it was little short of rapacious. On his first run this season I stood at the Newbury furlong pole to see if the enthusiasm was still there. The memory still lingers of Frankel’s neck set straight and those forelegs reaching out into the Berkshire turf. No horse has ever bettered the American term of “wanting to run a hole in the wind.”
That total extravagance did not happen yesterday but there was still a brutality in the beating he gave to Cirrus des Aigles whose 45 races have now earned him over £4million in prize money. Deep into the closing quarter mile Queally’s hands were still motionless as he loomed beside his desperate rival before decisively thrusting the power of his partner home. The deed had been done.
One final thought. Yesterday was the second consecutive time that Frankel has missed his kick when the stalls opened. At York, his first attempt at a mile and a quarter, it was an almost welcome move as it gave Tom Queally the chance to settle his partner well behind the leaders. But at Ascot the slowness of the opening jump was evident enough to have an element of reluctance about it emphasised by Queally’s instinctive urgency to get Frankel back up into racing mode. Once there we can now bask in the awesome conclusion, but in the career of every horse there is a time to race and a time to retire and after these past three full seasons and fourteen unbeaten races, it would be begging fortune to compete for another year.
Let the arguments roll on. But, to these eyes at least, the animal that stretched out for the finishing line at Ascot yesterday has never yet been equalled since thoroughbreds first trod the earth. May never be.