Saturday 18 November 2017

Nothing can spoil Frankel's grand finale

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

It will doubtless prove a deluded sentiment, but never in his glorious career has the mighty Frankel seemed so vulnerable as he does ahead of what it is hoped will be his grand finale.

Unbeaten in 13 starts since first accounting for Nathaniel by half a length on ground that was officially described as soft at Newmarket in August 2010, the sensational four-year-old will encounter a gruelling examination in this afternoon's Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot.

The ground could be borderline heavy, which, over 10 furlongs on a stiff track, makes this a potential war of attrition that is far from guaranteed to suit a horse with his proven attributes.

Despite expressing himself to have never been happier with the horse, Henry Cecil has conceded as much in recent days. His horse's weapon of choice is a devastating turn of foot in the third quarter of a race.

Armoury

Frankel, whose dam was a six-furlong specialist, was born to put that armoury to use over a mile, and such is his superiority that he was just as effective when stepped up to 10 furlongs on fast ground in the Juddmonte at York. This, though, will be different.

The exceptional son of Galileo is entering uncharted territory as he vies for the right to be universally acclaimed the greatest racehorse ever.

In that context, to see him faced with such a daunting assignment at this juncture is both unnerving and enthralling, for Nathaniel and Cirrus Des Aigles are the two horses best equipped to exploit the conditions.

Regardless of what happens today, Frankel has already proven himself to be one of the most sensational milers ever to grace a racecourse.

Should he emerge triumphant here, he would gravitate to the realm of everlasting glory with his 100pc record intact, something that not even his most lauded predecessors managed.

Remember, Dancing Brave, Brigadier Gerard, Alleged, Shergar, El Gran Senor and Sea The Stars were all beaten at least once, likewise America's Zenyatta.

Australia's sprinting queen Black Caviar still remains unbeaten, but you have to go back to Eclipse in the 18th century and Ormonde in the 19th century to find turf giants from these parts that departed unbowed.

That is the pantheon that awaits Frankel at Ascot. Maybe the rare reversals suffered by the likes of Dancing Brave and Zenyatta enhanced their respective legends, a flaw in their narrative that made them seem somehow -- for want of a better expression -- more human.

At this remove, however, there is no sense that a noble defeat would do the same for Frankel. To date, the odds have always been stacked in his favour, so it would be an utterly definitive statement for him to overcome adversity as the last act of his stunning time as a racehorse.

While last year's winner Cirrus Des Aigles will doubtless be primed, the lightly raced Nathaniel may pose a bigger threat on this historic occasion. He got closer to Frankel than anything else has done when the pair first clashed, so this is a final opportunity to best him.

Will John Gosden's colt be able to grasp it? In a word, no. Frankel is deserving of his place among the immortals, and his class should prevail above all other variables, as it ever does.

He can be trusted to deliver a 10th Group One under Dungarvan's unflappable Tom Queally.

On the undercard, Excelebration appeals as a rock solid option to claim the QEII that Frankel won 12 months ago for Aidan and Joseph O'Brien, with Sapphire possibly the best of the other raiders in the mares' race. Gosden's Great Heavens won't be easily felled, but the three-year-olds have been opposable all year and Sapphire is progressive.

In four starts on soft or heavy ground since October, Dermot Weld's four-year-old has only been beaten by Gosden's Izzi Top in the Pretty Polly Stakes. In the absence of a similar calibre of rival here, this is a Group Two that looks within the remit of Pat Smullen's mount.

Best Bet: Sapphire

Irish Independent

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