Friday 24 November 2017

Frankel best there's ever been -- Cecil

Chris McGrath

ON the latest evidence from Goodwood, Frankel -- as his trainer, as mildly and modestly as possible, now feels compelled to argue -- may conceivably be without precedent.

The separations of time, of course, ultimately make those of class impossible to measure. It was not so long ago, after all, that the Turf was graced by other paragons such as Sea The Stars or Zarkava, never mind the giants of years gone by. But if you take as your gauge the joy, emotion and theatre that suffused his latest epiphany here yesterday, then perhaps we have never seen the like of Frankel.

Before the Sussex Stakes, the other jockeys poured out of the weighing room and squeezed through the crowds around the parade ring to glimpse the unbeaten favourite. One veteran, a man who has seen it all before, stood next to a retired champion and discussed Tom Queally's options. They watched the Waterford native hoisted into the saddle by Henry Cecil. "He just has to keep it simple," they muttered.

Canford Cliffs, which represented the biggest challenge yet to Frankel's immaculate record, looked relaxed and imposing. But Frankel just took the breath away. Though he was sweating up a little, his overall demeanour was so calm that it was easy to accept Cecil's theory that Frankel is outgrowing the reckless exuberance of his younger days.

The stalls were loaded and, judging from the breathless hush, they might have been the chambers of a gun. For the first few seconds, Queally seemed menaced by the refusal of his rivals to set the pace. Not everyone, clearly, was convinced that Frankel had "grown up". As it turned out, they had played their one and only card.

Once they saw Frankel relax in the lead, his pursuers surely knew the game was up. After the hectic early charges of the 2,000 Guineas and Royal Ascot, this time Queally was conserving his mount's prodigious energy for the straight. Turning in, the two outsiders came off the bridle, and three furlongs out Frankel began to open up. In the wake of his detonation, Canford Cliffs was left hanging towards the stands rail, punch-drunk. Frankel won by five lengths, a margin unparalleled in four decades.

There was an immediate stampede to the winner's enclosure. Amid cheers and tears, one gentleman in a panama called for three cheers for Cecil, and was heartily obliged.

Most knew of the vicissitudes which the legendary Newmarket trainer had conquered to be here, both private and professional; and some, including Khaled Abdulla, will also have thought of Bobby Frankel. The Saudi prince named his colt in memory of the great American trainer, who in 2009 lost his own battle with the same type of illness Cecil has been fighting.

The moment seemed saturated with the nostalgia of years to come, and Cecil sensed that it demanded a corresponding perspective. "He's the best horse I've ever seen," he said. "I don't want to be facetious, and I'm probably wrong. I had a lot of respect for horses like Shergar, and Blushing Groom at his best. And I wouldn't know about before I was born. I can't go back to Tudor Minstrel, or to the days of match racing."

He paused, and his reiteration was subtly strengthened. "But I think he's probably the best you've seen."

He almost seemed to be stressing that Frankel transcends the judgment even of a 10-times champion trainer, with 25 British Classics to his name.

"It's an awful thing to say, but I'm not surprised by how he won," Cecil said. "He's improving, much better now than earlier in the year."

Queally, whose intention had been to settle in behind, wore a relieved look after criticism of his aggressive tactics at Ascot. "I decided to use my initiative, and thankfully things worked out," said the former champion Irish apprentice, who also won the last race aboard Askaud to complete a double.

"He gradually picked himself up, furlong by furlong. He was rolling before I wanted, but that is often the case with him, and he was amazing. I'm just very fortunate to be playing a small part in it. He's got that turbo -- he's a freak."

Until Frankel rather spoilt it, Canford Cliffs' trainer Richard Hannon was having a good afternoon and, having notched up two winners on Tuesday, he added to his collection when Chandlery led home a 1-2 for his stable in the Group Two Veuve Cliquot Vintage Stakes. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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