Thursday 17 August 2017

Pulling rank on Frankel's record

The star miler still has some way to go to match one of the all-time greats, says Ian McClean

In winning the 11th consecutive race of his career, Frankel became officially the best horse of the modern era since Phil Bull's Timeform began compiling ratings in 1948.

Until Frankel, no horse -- however spectacular its achievement (and this includes Sea The Stars more recently) -- had succeeded in breaching the 140-rating standard since the early 1970s. The UK benchmark for excellence by which all others were being measured was the mark of 144 afforded to Brigadier Gerard. Some consider the comparison of horses from different generations as futile an exercise as comparing the quality of your children. Nonetheless, it is nothing if not a mechanism for both generating and dividing opinion.

In the context of Frankel's attempt to extend his unbeaten record to 12 in next Wednesday's Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, it is interesting to revisit the career achievements of the Brigadier exactly 40 years ago. It's worth noting that the European pattern was only introduced in 1971 (Brigadier Gerard's three-year-old year). By way of comparison, in 1972 there were just 52 Group One races across Europe; whilst in 2011 that had increased to 83.

Like Frankel, the Brigadier's career spanned the ages of two, three and four. His career record on retirement read 17 wins from 18 races. Mirroring Frankel again, he was unbeaten from four attempts as a juvenile. Whereas Frankel ended his juvenile campaign by winning the Dewhurst, the Brigadier ended with the Middle Park. But whilst Frankel started a red-hot 1/2 for the 2,000 Guineas, Brigadier Gerard was sent off only third favourite at 11/2.

The reason? He shared a birth-year with no less than My Swallow and Mill Reef, both of whom headed him in the market for the 1971 Classic. While Brigadier Gerard had won four races at two, My Swallow had won seven from seven; and Mill Reef had won five out of six (losing out by just a head to My Swallow in the Prix Robert Papin).

Both Mill Reef and My Swallow had easily won their respective Guineas trials. The Brigadier was making his three-year-old debut. A youthful Brough Scott visited Dick Hern's West Ilsley yard on behalf of World of Sport the Tuesday before the Guineas and discovered the Brigadier camp quietly confident. He couldn't imagine it himself.

In addition, Vincent O'Brien and Lester Piggott teamed up with Minsky, easy winner of the Tetrarch. Between just six that lined up, the field had won 27 of its 33 races. Brigadier Gerard attacked at the bottom of the dip and ran out an easy three-length winner from Mill Reef and My Swallow. The 1971 2,000 Guineas is often considered the best ever run. Although often touted, the rematch between The Brigadier and Mill Reef never materialised but Mill Reef subsequently went on to win the Derby, Eclipse, King George, Arc, Prix Ganay and Coronation Cup before his retirement. By contrast, four of the next five horses home in Frankel's 2,000 Guineas were rated less than 103.

After the Guineas, Brigadier Gerard (like Frankel) won the St James's Palace and the Sussex -- where he beat Faraway Son by five lengths. Faraway Son had beaten My Swallow in his previous outing and went through the rest of his career unbeaten. Like Frankel, The Brigadier also won the QEII. However, unlike Frankel he didn't stop there. He added the Goodwood Mile and stepped up to a mile-and-a-quarter for his final start as a three-year-old to win the Champion Stakes.

As a four-year-old, Frankel has won two races. Like Brigadier Gerard, he began with the Lockinge. But whereas Frankel has added the Queen Anne, by this stage of the campaign Brigadier Gerard had added the Westbury (now happily called the 'Brigadier Gerard') at Sandown, the Prince of Wales' and the Eclipse; and stepped up to a mile-and-a-half to win the King George. There he had to overcome the widest draw (1) and defeated five individual Classic winners including Gay Lussac (ridden by Lester Piggott which was defending an unbeaten nine-race record) and Riverman. The second that day, Parnell, won his next race by 24 lengths and, although forced to miss the Arc, subsequently beat the Arc winner in the Washington International by ten lengths.

Brigadier Gerard's only career defeat came in the Benson and Hedges (now the Juddmonte International) at York where he was having his sixth race in just 12 weeks -- a scenario unimaginable in our modern cotton-wool era. In spite of the fact he was conceding 11lbs to the first two in the Derby (Roberto and Rheingold), the result was so apparently foregone that The Brigadier was entered to run in the Nunthorpe over five furlongs just two days later.

Given a six-week break, he returned to smash the course record in the QEII and signed off his career with another defeat of Riverman in the Champion Stakes.

Apart from Frankel's defeat of Nathaniel on his racecourse debut, in terms of opposition his substance really hinges upon the quality of Excelebration which he has beaten on each of the five times they have met. I'm exempting Canford Cliffs as he was injured and immediately retired after his Sussex flop 12 months ago. Yet Excelebration has only ever won one Group One race -- and a poor quality one at that.

Wednesday's Sussex at 1/14 will sadly tell us nothing new. Therefore, to adopt a favourite Peter O'Sullevan phrase, Frankel still "has it to do". Until he steps up in distance and takes on the likes of Camelot, he is still -- like pipe-smoking Joe Mercer entering the winner's enclosure -- just tipping his hat at Brigadier Gerard.

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