Tuesday 20 March 2018

Cecil and Frankel's story is one for the ages

At this stage, attempts to justify or deny Frankel's right to be acclaimed the best racehorse ever are a bit superfluous.

In light of an admission last week by the former senior English handicapper Geoffrey Gibbs that the mythical 141 rating awarded to Dancing Brave was done so for sentimental purposes as much as anything, the supposedly impartial system of ranking horses on the relative merits of their achievements is hugely undermined.

The other option is to judge what each horse delivers in an overall sense, but that is even more open to subjective interpretation.

Is what Frankel achieved over three years, unbeaten in 14 starts and 10 Group Ones between seven and 10 furlongs, more or less commendable than what Sea The Stars did in six months? Frankel was never bettered, but neither was he asked to race over 12 furlongs, a challenge that Sea The Stars met with aplomb to plunder both the Epsom Derby and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Ultimately, not least in light of Gibbs' admission, you cannot compare generations, so there is no definitive answer. That is what makes the debate so uniquely interesting and inane.

Frankel was a giant of a racehorse, an equine wrecking ball that repeatedly pulverised his rivals. In signing off on a heroic career at Ascot on Saturday, he brought the number of individual Group One winners that he beat to 23, between them successful in 52 Group Ones.

He could hardly have been any better a horse than that, could he? We will probably never witness another quite like him, and whether or not he would have had it in his armoury to win an Arc that was taken by the previously unheralded Solemia is neither here nor there now.

One thing that contributed to Frankel's glorious saga being so universally well received is the individual journeys that coloured the narrative. Frankel may always have been a supreme athlete, but he was also a borderline tearaway in his youth.

Under the careful tuition of Henry Cecil and Tom Queally, however, he matured into a complete racing machine, one that had the tenacity not only to succeed in the face of such a gruelling assignment in Saturday's Champion Stakes, but to overcome a tardy start that added to the drama of a day laced with the tension of history. And he was a gift for Champions Day.

Last year, he saved an inaugural edition that was mired in the whip controversy. This time, he brought the house down with a courageous swansong that captivated the watching world.

Queally, of course, is the strong-minded teenage riding sensation that flirted with controversy and anonymity before earning Cecil's trust.

On Frankel, not least in that mesmerising 2,000 Guineas pillar-to-post triumph, he has come of age, excelling in the way that he quietly placated a horse that might have been its own worst enemy in less capable hands.

The Dungarvan man survived a near calamity at Royal Ascot last year, but Cecil stood firm. He remained loyal, and together horse and rider joined the immortals, after being granted the opportunity to do so when Khalid Abdullah sportingly opted to race his home-bred at four.

As for Cecil himself, well, his is a strand of racing life that has captured the imagination like few others. It was often said of Sea The Stars that his luckiest break was the one that saw him consigned to John Oxx's care, and Frankel's fortune was no less favourable in that regard.

Cecil has long been a totemic figure, a popular man of inherent dignity whose professional well-being inexplicably caved in before cancer began ravaging his physical health six years ago, six years after it claimed his identical twin, David. Despite his illness, he painstakingly dragged his stable out of the doldrums for one of the most edifying comebacks imaginable.

He was gaunt, frail and practically incapable of speaking as he welcomed Frankel back to the winners' enclosure for a final time on Saturday, but it was his name that was chanted by an adoring crowd.

When they make the movie, that will make for a poignant closing scene.

Irish raiders steal show on Ascot undercard

In a sub-plot that would have been headline news were it not for the mighty Frankel's presence, Irish-trained horses contested four races at Ascot on Saturday and won all four. Prior to the main event, Excelebration paid Frankel yet another fine compliment by hosing up at a shade of odds-on in the QEII for Aidan and Joseph O'Brien, in the process setting himself up for a tilt at the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita on November 3.

Earlier, Maarek provided David Nagle's modest Fethard stable with its most prestigious victory by recording his fifth win of the year in the Group Two sprint under Jamie Spencer. It was Dermot Weld though, who stole the show with a 31/1 double.

The Curragh maestro's Rite Of Passage (8/1) benefited from a vintage Pat Smullen steer to swoop late in the long-distance Group Three on its first start for 510 days.

Weld reported that the 2010 Gold Cup hero could attempt to lower Big Buck's colours in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham come March, while Sapphire's long-term target is no less ambitious.

"In my mind I see her progressing more," Weld said after she readily justified 5/2 joint-favouritism in the mares' race, "and I could see her being trained for the Arc next year."

Sir Des Champs set

for Punchestown

Willie Mullins has reported that Sir Des Champs, 6/1 favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, is likely to reappear in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown on December 9.

Twice a Festival winner already, the Robin Des Champs six-year-old is unbeaten in seven outings since joining Mullins. The champion trainer also revealed that Sous Les Cieux, a Grade One-winning novice hurdler last term, was killed in a schooling accident recently.

Pires hits mark at Cork once again for Martin

The Tony Martin-trained Pires followed up its April course victory by running out an impressive winner of the handicap chase at Cork yesterday. Sent off the 5/2 favourite, he led after the last under Paul Townend, eventually claiming the €24,375 prize by six lengths.

The three-mile maiden hurdle on the card went to Robert Tyner's Philip Enright-ridden Dushrembrandt (16/1), a half-brother to the 2004 Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Sir Rembrandt.


110 Frankie Dettori's Group One haul for Godolphin. Just a fortnight after the peerless Italian took the mount on Camelot for Sheikh Mohammed's arch-rival Coolmore in the Arc, it was announced yesterday that this is the last year that he will be retained to ride for the Dubai prince.

After 18 years together, Dettori confirmed it was a mutual decision to split, and Godolphin's Simon Crisford said he would continue to ride for them in a freelance capacity.

The announcement came as no surprise and was in the offing ever since Dettori accepted the ride on Aidan O'Brien's Derby winner in the Arc.

Dettori, who rode Godolphin's first Classic winner, Balanchine, in 1994 and has been associated with many of the stable's top horses since then, said: "I have had 18 wonderful years. Godolphin has been a major part of everything I have achieved in racing and I have loved every minute of it.

"I feel the time has come for a change. My position in the stable has changed a little bit and I need a new challenge. Sheikh Mohammed has been an unbelievable boss to me. I will be forever grateful to him."

This season, the Italian has been sharing the Godolphin rides with fellow retained riders Mickael Barzalona and Silvestre de Sousa, who will continue in their roles in 2013.

Dettori's name has been one of a number linked as possibles to be named retained jockey to the increasingly powerful Pearl Bloodstock and Qatar Racing.

Asked about speculation over a retained rider, David Redvers, racing manager to Sheikh Fahad Al Thani of Qatar, said: "I think I will be in a position to make an announcement at the end of the week."


@flynnracing -- Cork bound with Moon Dice, only thing worried about is how far he will win by #roadtocheltenham13 -- Occasional tweeter Paul Flynn makes a sensational return to the Twitter-sphere for a first time since July. In the end, the margin was a neck, as his 2011 Galway Hurdle hero dug deep to collect at odds of 2/1 under Robbie Power, who was completing a double after winning on Dumbarton (7/2) for Gordon Elliott. On Saturday, the AP McCoy-ridden Bondage (17/2) had won for the in-form Elliott at Cheltenham.

Irish Independent

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