It had been billed as something closer to a ceremony than a horse race, but those who brought Frankel to Ascot yesterday seemed to be deceived into some kind of ritual.
He won, all right, and so retains an immaculate record of seven wins in seven starts. But Tom Queally did not so much ride a race, as shake the incense of greatness over his mount -- and the process seemed to make the jockey rather dizzy.
This year's meeting had threatened to squander its richest interest in its first 80 minutes, with Goldikova and then Frankel arriving as two of the most feted milers of the modern era. As things turned out, the French mare was beaten a length by Canford Cliffs in the opener; and Frankel appeared all out to hold Zoffany by just three-quarters of a length in the St James's Palace Stakes.
Frankel had last been seen annihilating his rivals for the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. Seasoned witnesses that day had been staggered by the aggressive deployment of his energy and gave corresponding credit to Queally and Henry Cecil for their boldness.
This time, however, the jockey -- if not the trainer -- almost seemed to feel as though Frankel's reputation might be dishonoured by tactics purged of melodrama.
Michael Hills did not shine aboard the pacemaker in the same Khalid Abdulla silks. One of the reasons why Cecil had decided to head for the horizon at Newmarket had been the inadequacy of the pacemaker in his trial.
This time, however, the odds-on favourite relaxed serenely while Hills went careering clear. Suddenly, barely at halfway, Queally started urging his mount forward.
Frankel obliged by charging out of the pack, rounding the pacemaker, and opening up a lead of half a dozen lengths with two furlongs to go. At that stage, he either began to betray bemusement or exhaustion.
Cecil confessed that it "was a bit nerve-wracking and didn't go to plan."
It tells you all you need to know that Aidan O'Brien's Zoffany had been restrained at the very rear of the field, and while Cecil insists that Frankel was simply bored, on the face of it, he has endured an unnecessarily taxing race.
"He settled much better," Queally said. "As a result, nobody was inclined to follow Michael and that put me in a tricky position. He was running for a long way and started to get a bit fed up in front. He does it all so easily."
Cecil, saddling his 73rd Royal Ascot winner, drew positives. "In a way, it's good he was getting so idle," he said. "It means we can settle him in behind now, ride a normal race on him. He's complicated, but he's growing up all the time."
On the same basis, he sounds disposed to experiment with Frankel over 10 furlongs. Abdulla would cherish a first success in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York in August -- a race he sponsors -- and it may duly prove that Frankel will avoid a showdown with Canford Cliffs at Goodwood.
That would be a pity, because Richard Hannon may feel that the only way for Canford Cliffs to relieve Frankel of top billing is to go toe-to-toe and beat him.
Strictly speaking, Frankel hardly ranks as a superior scalp to Goldikova, which struck for home two furlongs out in the Queen Anne, but was denied a 14th Group One win as Canford Cliffs followed her through to lead inside the last furlong.
Olivier Peslier returned to the scales 2lbs overweight, and was fined £650, having weighed out only 1lb over, and technically that would have sufficed to make the difference. The French mare retains every right to improve her Breeders' Cup record this autumn.
Having won the Coventry as a juvenile, and the St James's Palace Stakes last year, this was Canford Cliffs' third consecutive win on this card. "He's the best horse I've ever ridden," Richard Hughes reiterated. "And today he's beaten the best mare in the world."
If Canford Cliffs merits more attention, then how about poor Robert Cowell and Jim Crowley? They shared a maiden Royal Ascot success when Prohibit reeled in a variety of overseas speedballs in the King's Stand Stakes.
The Coventry proved less of a novelty, O'Brien saddling his sixth winner of the race in Power. Sent off the 4/1 favourite, he was well behind in the early stages.
As the early pace-setters began to weaken, the unbeaten Power began to find his stride. Roman Soldier hit the front and the pair came together inside the final furlong, prompting a stewards' inquiry, and there was a neck between them at the line.
"I spoke to Ryan on the way in and asked him if he would stay further and he said no problem. All things are open to him," said the Ballydoyle handler. (© Independent News Service)