Monday 23 October 2017

Queally hails Frankel for flawless triumph


Death, taxes, Frankel. There aren't too many certainties in life -- much less horseracing -- but Henry Cecil's stable star fulfilled everyone's expectations in obliging by a leisurely four lengths in the QEII at the inaugural Qipco Champions Day at Ascot yesterday. Frankel proved the predictable highlight of the richest-ever race card run in Britain.

However, almost as predictable given the timing of the BHA introduction of the new whip regulations, was that someone somewhere would fall foul. That the inevitable infringement came in the last and richest race ever run on UK soil saw an exquisite day of pulsating high-calibre sport end in pique, controversy and recrimination.

Nine wins from nine career starts by an aggregate of 46 lengths, Frankel retires to winter quarters with his reputation for invincibility still intact. At odds of 4/11 it is hardly stop press material that he won, but he has triumphed in many contrasting styles this year and yesterday revealed yet another dimension to the galaxy of his talent.

His half brother and lead horse Bullet Train was assigned the role of pacemaker but may as well have stayed in his box as the field (and the cameraman) ignored his contribution when he cannoned off from the stalls. Consequently, the early furlongs were the slowest as the riders of the other seven runners eyeballed each other to see who would blink first. As it was, Tom Queally had the most to lose on Frankel. Yet, in contrast to his previous visit here for the St James Palace Stakes, his move was decisive rather than knee-jerk and he took charge at just the right tempo before quickening away to beat the right horses -- Excelebration and Immortal Verse -- by a snug four lengths. If ever the cliché "routine brilliance" had a place, then it was here.

The precise routine nature of the brilliance was mirrored by Cecil's post-race comments that "we weren't trying to catch pigeons today" but Queally was less circumspect in describing his performance -- or perhaps the horse as a whole -- as "flawless". Perhaps amongst all the rhetoric and hyperbole Queally nailed it when asked how it felt to be associated with such a champion. "This is the horse in a lifetime for the public, never mind the jockey," he said.

I've never, in my life certainly, witnessed a horse applauded before, during and after a race: so the increasingly admiring public is obviously of the same mind.

Notwithstanding the BHA's perplexing and potentially explosive decision to introduce the new whip regulations in the same week as the inaugural grand finale, the day itself went some way towards putting the pin back in the grenade. An enthusiastic crowd of 26,700 turned out on to beautifully manicured racecourse in the perfect autumn sun. The lack of Group Ones on the racecard was more than compensated for by the Group One quality of the horses which turned up for the shoulder races. However, while Frankel's win was an encapsulation of everything that horseracing embodies at its best, the epilogue to the Champion Stakes was anything but, and a classic example of racing's administration shooting racing in the foot.

Probably the smartest collection of thoroughbreds assembled anywhere in the world this year over a mile and quarter fittingly competed in the final race of the Qipco Champions Series. The finest competing for the richest. An equally thrilling race was won in nail-biting style by French raider Cirrus des Aigles defeating the Ballydoyle-trained favourite So You Think in a tight finish. Unfortunately for French rider Christophe Soumillon, he was adjudged to have used the whip six times in the final furlong -- one more than the regulation five -- and as a result was handed down a mandatory five-day suspension and made to forfeit his winner's percentage (in the region of a cool £50,000). The French rider -- the latest and most high-profile victim of the controversial new rules -- was apoplectic with rage afterwards and is thought to be mounting a legal challenge to the decision. Interestingly, both Ryan Moore (rider of So You Think) and Soumillon hit their mounts six times each in the run to the finish. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, all six strikes came within the last furlong, which crosses the wrong side of the newly imposed legal line.

The jockey fumed: "I'm very embarrassed for English racing today. You have a lot of problems but the whip is not one of them. Jockeys are not here to whip horses, they are here to make the horses do their best and that is what I tried to do.

"I cannot understand why they change it one week before Champions Day."

The question of the punishment fitting the crime was the single yet significant blot on an otherwise perfect Berkshire landscape.

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