Frankel could be set for match of century
Published 20/05/2012 | 05:00
If this weekend is one thronged with pulsating sporting fixtures, then we had better get used to it. For it is nothing more than we are going to experience for the remainder of the summer when Euro 2012 and the Olympics kick in, and the scrum for media airtime is likely to be as intense as anything we saw at Twickenham yesterday.
To compete, racing needs a champion. Which is why the eagerly-awaited return of the highest-rated racehorse in the world in the Lockinge at Newbury yesterday had even more at stake than usual. And Frankel didn't disappoint.
The consensus beforehand was that if Frankel was ever to be vulnerable, then it was going to be on his seasonal reappearance. After all, it was as recently as Grand National day that the wires were alive with the misleading news that retirement was imminent following a career-threatening injury.
Mercifully a 12-day relaxation of his training regime was all that was required.
By 3.45 yesterday we understood the folly of doubt. Whilst not as mesmerising as he was in the Guineas last year, Frankel's brilliance was at least as routine as any other victory last season or before.
The narrative of the race was more descriptive of a piece of work on Newmarket Heath than a prestigious Group One race. Frankel's lead horse and half-brother Bullet Train led straight from the gate, with Frankel sitting in his slipstream all the way. At the two furlong pole Tom Queally unleashed the champion and he skipped clear of Excelebration, left to chase in vain yet again.
Given the victory simply re-affirmed Frankel's brilliance-as-usual, what was different about the four-year-old model? For one thing he has predictably strengthened -- as his trainer predicted -- getting "extra muscles from somewhere" according to one paddock commentator. Queally described him as "more grown-up and thicker set". The other discernible difference is how much more tractable he has become as he has matured. He needed only one handler in the paddock this time, and in the race it was far easier for the jockey to contain the explosive energy so abundant in the last two seasons. This is all bad news for his adversaries as the net effect appears like a new improved Frankel for 2012.
Yesterday's victory reopens the academic navel-gazer about Frankel's standing in the pecking order of 300 years of thoroughbred production. He started the season in Timeform's view as trailing only Sea Bird and Brigadier Gerard in that notional hierarchy -- and if the 10-times unbeaten champion miler is indeed a superior force this term, then who knows what we can look forward to during the next five months? William Hill make it just an even-money chance that Frankel goes through the whole campaign unbeaten.
We will undoubtedly see Frankel step up to a mile and a quarter at some stage -- although that is unlikely to be on his next outing at Royal Ascot. There, he is more likely to contest the stiff mile of the Queen Anne rather than the quarter-mile longer Prince of Wales'. However, while Frankel is officially classified as the best horse in the world today, there is an entire hemisphere of race-goers who believe that Black Caviar is even better.
While Frankel has made it a perfect 10, the Australian super-mare is already 21 not out and bound for Royal Ascot herself next month. There will be no clash of the titans in Berkshire -- that is for certain as Black Caviar contests the Golden Jubilee. But there could potentially be a head-to-head at Goodwood in the Sussex where the sponsors have raised the pot to £1m in an effort to pull off the match of the century.
Now there's something to compete for the sporting headlines.
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