Heirs to the throne keep Frankel in limelight at Royal gala
Star quality sharpens the appetite for Royal Ascot, and anticipation for a wonderful week's racing was never greater than for the two glorious years when Frankel ran.
He flirted with defeat in 2011, hacked up by 11 lengths the following year and was the only horse anyone wanted to talk about. And now, remarkably, almost four years since he last raced, he is the talking point once more.
This Royal Ascot will be the first to be graced by Frankel's offspring. In the case of almost any other excellent racehorse, that would be a notable point only for the connoisseur but, as in so many other things, Frankel is different. Interest did not wane just because his unbeaten 14-race career on the track was at an end.
To begin with, we gawped at the royal fellowship of high-achieving mares who would be, in the parlance, covered by him, their owners having paid £125,000 each for the privilege. The summer after his retirement we were treated to news of his 95pc fertility rate. A year later we marvelled at the fact someone was prepared to pay £1.15m for a gangly-legged foal just because the father was Frankel.
This spring, with the final emergence of his sons and daughters on to the racecourse, came the test that would decide how long our love affair with Frankel could last. Lord knows, there have been a few champion racers which could not sustain that success at stud. Happily for Frankel, there was never any question of him not being a success at the leafy Banstead Manor Stud in Newmarket, owned by Khalid Abdullah, whose colours he carried. He would have been a treasured guest there even if he sired nothing but staying chasers.
But it seems there is every chance he will be as good at his second job as he was at the first. Five of his offspring have so far entered the starting stalls and four of them got to the line in front about a minute later.
Two of those winners will be at the centre of attention when they line up for races at Ascot this week: Cunco in Saturday's Chesham Stakes and Queen Kindly, which could try Friday's Albany or Wednesday's Queen Mary. Cunco was the first of Frankel's progeny to race, just as he was the first to be foaled.
When he turned up at Newbury last month, rumours had begun to suggest that Frankel the Stallion might be in trouble. Most of his kids looked nothing like him. To use a phrase that has no positive connotations in bloodstock circles, they came in all shapes and sizes.
Cunco disgraced himself initially, rearing up so he banged his head on the ceiling of the saddling box. At that point it seemed long odds against Frankel being a promising parent before Royal Ascot.
But the penny dropped with Cunco at about halfway in that first race, leaving him ample time to shoot past his rivals. His brothers and sisters have seemed rather more professional and all promise to be very useful. Fair Eva, a chestnut filly which scored by four lengths at Haydock this week, was immediately quoted by bookmakers for the 1,000 Guineas next May.
"We all know the expectations are so astronomically high, including ours," says Lord Grimthorpe, who manages the racing interests of Frankel's owner. "By any standards he's made a satisfactory start, but what you're seeing just now are the speedier types. As the year goes on we'll see horses that are going to need a little bit more distance and, at that point, we hope to see the depth of his ability to sire good horses."
"When someone sends you a horse sired by the greatest racehorse that's ever lived, that is quite an exciting moment," says Hugo Palmer, whose Newmarket stable houses three of Frankel's offspring. Palmer produced a surprise winner of the 2,000 Guineas in April, but he also has the doubtful distinction of being the only trainer so far to saddle a loser from Frankel's stock. Majoris, he reports, will be much sharper next time.
Palmer was unperturbed by reports that Frankel's progeny tended not to look like him. "It's one of the things you often get when a stallion has a stellar book of mares," he says, suggesting that 'alpha females' produce stock that resemble them more than the sire. "After all, if you had 126 children by 126 different women, they would all look rather different."
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