Sport Horse Racing

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Triumph and disaster all in one

Frankel's victory at Ascot

The post-race interview is the sliced pan of the racing journalist's diet. Most are forgettable. Few are memorable. One stands out from this year's batch.

If you didn't know the result of Royal Ascot's St James's Palace Stakes you would have been forgiven for thinking the unthinkable -- Frankel had been turned over at 30/100. It was horseracing's YouTube clip of 'The operation was successful but the patient died'.

Frankel attempting a Magnificent Seven . . . Unbeaten in both seasons. . . The most sensational winner of a Classic (2,000 Guineas) since Shergar . . . Commanding more media attention than any other horse of his generation . . . Newly honoured trainer Henry Cecil anticipating welcoming his first winner as knight of the realm.

Jockey Tom Queally said beforehand he didn't do pressure. Pressure was for tyres. But this tyre in the interview was totally deflated. The reactions, pressure personified. Queally's subdued body language spoke more of a bereavement than a celebration. Frankel was moving with delicious efficiency just behind his pacemaker when, in an instant, the delicate equilibrium was broken and Queally was suddenly riding his ears off before reaching half-way.

The hasty manoeuvre provided an object lesson in how pressure scrambles thought. The heat of his situation was betrayed by the light of the facts. Despite a six-length advantage at the two-furlong pole, Frankel only just clambered home by a diminishing three-quarters.

Hand-timed reading revealed Frankel was decelerating rapidly and ran the last three furlongs four seconds slower than the preceding three furlongs. Sir Henry described the experience as "nerve-wrecking". The sole argument for the defence was that the horse won. But he won in spite of the strategy, not because of it.

The post-race interview unfolded, slow-motion, like an Act of Contrition -- the subject relieved by the end to have been granted a reprieve.

Triumph or Disaster? This one, uniquely, was both.

Ian McClean

Sunday Indo Sport

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