Friday 15 December 2017

A fitting fairytale ending for Frankel


Immortal. The final curtain came down on the career of arguably the greatest thoroughbred in history at Ascot's fittingly-titled Champions Day yesterday.

The Frankel era was formally closed out with a victory more workmanlike than the blockbusters we have become accustomed to owing to the extreme conditions -- but the victory at least ensured his record remains reassuringly unblemished.

"The best I've ever had. The best I've ever seen. I'd be very surprised if there's ever been better," was how Frankel's trainer Henry Cecil summed it up after his champion had comfortably disposed of French challenger Cirrus des Aigles.

It was the epitaph that preceded the inevitable announcement from Prince Khalid Abdulla moments later that Frankel had indeed run his very last race.

The fairytale ending delighted the capacity crowd parading its colourful Frankel flags and palettes with elan in an effervescent atmosphere more reminiscent of a jumps festival.

However, in spite of starting odds-on for the 13th consecutive occasion, Frankel's victory wasn't without drama. That came very early as Frankel did his impression of the Hamlet-horse by falling out of the stalls, needing cajoling into the bridle and so gifting his rivals a lead. In fact by the time his pacemaker had gone 50 yards Frankel had lost fully five lengths.

Fortunately, when your superiority is such that tactics become immaterial, it was simply a matter of Tom Queally keeping his cool. He was abetted by Ian Mongan on pacemaker Bullet Train, which took care not to go mad in front and turn the contest into an unnecessarily gruelling slog. Indeed after two furlongs the pacemaker was actually overtaken by Cirrus des Aigles as Olivier Peslier knew that if there was going to be any chink in the champion's armour it would be in stamina.

The pacemaker led again between the six furlong pole and the entrance to the straight, by which time the French horse and Nathaniel took over again, setting sail for home.

However, Frankel still travelled with menace behind before swamping his opponents at the furlong pole. This time he didn't stretch relentlessly clear as in the recent past and his winning distance of just a length and three quarters testifies to ground conditions with more in common with treacle than tarmac.

Queally reinforced the metaphor when reflecting afterwards: "You never see Formula 1 cars win on anything but tarmac."

Interestingly, Frankel has only ever raced on proper soft ground once previously -- on his racecourse debut -- and only had half a length to spare on that occasion. Ironically, Nathaniel (third yesterday) filled the second spot that day, 26 months ago.

It was fitting that the two horses that arguably pushed Frankel the hardest in his 14-race unbeaten career should have filled the place positions in yesterday's race.

It is perhaps even more appropriate that the horse that chased Frankel home with monotonous regularity (on five occasions) should have won the QEII Stakes that directly preceded Frankel's swansong.

Excelebration had exhausted every angle in trying to beat Frankel, failing four times before the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot. The final throw of the tactical dice came in trying to match strides with Cecil's colossus that day in mid-June. The result was that Excelebration was broken at the furlong pole and trailed in at an 11-length deficit by the winning post.

In effortlessly trouncing the best milers around in the preceding QEII yesterday Excelebration was paying his previous nemesis the greatest of compliments

Frankel's career has captured the public's imagination sufficiently that his headline victory/retirement yesterday preceded even the football on Sky Sports.

Undefeated in 14 career starts, he matches Zenyatta's worldwide record in winning nine Group One races in a row (10 in all). This year Frankel has recorded five 130-plus rated performances. Put into context -- in 2006 there wasn't one single 130-plus performance by a horse anywhere in the world. The statistics alone could fill this column.

Nathaniel retires to stud in addition to Frankel. Frankel's stud value is estimated at £100m with a nomination fee likely to figure at around £100,000. But spare a thought for Cirrus des Aigles with a zero stud value -- as a gelding.

Frankel has frequently been compared through his career to that other great benchmark for equine greatness during the last half century, Brigadier Gerard. In Frankel's retirement it is interesting to resurrect a quote by the Brigadier's owner/breeder John Hislop as he reflected on the moment of his retirement

"In him everyone can take an equal part. For he is part now of our heritage, evolved from 300 years of thought and endeavour by those involved in perfecting the breed of the racehorse."

Hear, Hear.

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