Friday 24 May 2019

Cecil's wonder horse Frankel creating a new empire in his own image

Trainer Henry Cecil with Frankel at Ascot in 2011. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Trainer Henry Cecil with Frankel at Ascot in 2011. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Paul Hayward

A wonder horse on the track, and a super sire off it, Frankel is such a paragon that he even manages to be a "considerate" lover to the elite mares assisting him in his conquest of the bloodstock world.

The magnificent thoroughbred which steps out before us at Banstead Manor Stud in Newmarket is unfeasibly perfect in all aspects.

Former champion jockey Tony 'AP' McCoy told the stallion's handlers that he only ever wanted to be photographed with two other stars: Zinedine Zidane and Frankel.

Tour parties have been known to burst into tears when he is led from his box to be admired. Unbeaten in 14 races from August 2010 to October 2012 - 10 of them Group One contests - Frankel is creating a family empire in his own image.

The chances of a good racehorse making a top stallion are slim, but Frankel, which is outperforming his own sire, the uber-prolific Galileo, at the same stage of their careers, was never going to be a dud. When he was moved to Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte breeding headquarters from Henry Cecil's training yard, the other stallions took a backward step.

"For three days after he arrived here, Oasis Dream - who was very much in charge - wouldn't put his head over the door," says Juddmonte's UK stud director Simon Mockridge.

"He stayed with his backside showing. It was nature's recognition that a bigger beast had come into the yard."


But if Frankel showed up for his new life as a Lothario with a domineering air, the mares he covers were spared the alpha male pose. Mockridge says: "He likes to be managed day by day, exactly the same. If you try to change things, he will let you know.

"In the breeding shed, he's exactly what he was on the racecourse. He's not keen, he's not an aggressive stallion. He is very calm, very well organised. He's in and out within five minutes and is very considerate. It makes it all remarkably easy."

A day spent talking to those closest to the Frankel story yields remarkable insights into his relationship with the great Cecil, whose late-career masterpiece he was, and the spell he cast over an industry that has tried for centuries to breed a horse with his attributes. Frankel ran for only 21 minutes and 59.80 seconds but was invincible from a mile to a mile and a quarter across three seasons.

His speed and long stride are being passed on for a fee of £175,000 per assignation, though curiously his offspring are often not like him physically. "They may not look like him," Mockridge says, "but they certainly run like him. That is the essence."

The current star of Frankel's early crops is Cracksman, favourite for the QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot on October 20, the race he won last year, and which served as Frankel's valediction six years ago.

Any cupids dreaming of a union between him and Enable, which won her second Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Sunday in the same colours, will have to match-make somewhere else.

The genetic lines are too close. And Frankel is doing fine without Enable's help. His first 95 runners produced a startling 23.5 per cent strike-rate. Last year 25 of his yearlings sold at auction for an average of £500,000.

Behind these numbers runs a remarkable human tale that only grows with the years. Cecil, who was gravely ill through much of Frankel's career, died of cancer less than a year after his final race. There is a permanent image in racing's consciousness of a peerless trainer finding the horse of his life and being sustained by that discovery while his own time was expiring.

In Newmarket, where she oversees tourist visits to the stud for the benefit of a local charity, Henry's widow Lady Cecil recalled the special bond between her late husband and his masterwork. She says: "I always remember Henry at the Royal Lodge (Stakes, at Ascot in 2010), when we were coming back into the winner's enclosure. Henry never walked and talked, he always stopped. If he wanted to say something he'd always stop, as if he couldn't walk and talk. He stopped and said: 'I think he's the best I've ever had.' And I was saying: 'Don't be saying that to the press.' And then, of course, the press took it up as well, and Henry used to moan like mad about it, and I said: 'Well, you might have had something to do with that.'"

One urban myth from that time was that Frankel, on the Newmarket gallops, had out-run a nearby train.

Lady Cecil, who later trained Frankel's brother, Noble Mission, to win the Champion Stakes, says: "There is a train. That area is called Railway Land. I have to tell you it's not an express train and the drivers are very wary that this is the gallops."

His train-challenging days behind him, Frankel's next mission is to sire an English Classic winner. Only the best of the country's 8,000 broodmares are allowed into his boudoir and Juddmonte send many of the best of theirs.

"If you look at where they are in their careers at the respective age, he (Frankel) is streets ahead (of Galileo). He got to 20 Group (race) winners faster. So we are very hopeful," Juddmonte's UK stud director Simon Mockridge said.

When Frankel left Cecil's Warren Place yard in a horse box in 2012, the trainer followed in his car. Sir Henry wanted that final act of letting go. He wanted the relief of knowing his job was done. The horse himself is infinitely patient with visitors, and for Lady Cecil he is the best possible reminder of the glory years with her late husband.

For consolation, too, she watches recordings of Frankel's 14 wins and the yard's other great days. She says: "I watch them with Henry's oldest brother Bow. When he's feeling a bit down - he's just had a heart operation - he'll put them on and I'll sit and watch them with him. That is lovely." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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